1 Samuel 14
Benson Commentary
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 Samuel 14:2. Saul tarried in the uttermost part of Gibeah — In the outworks of the city, where he had intrenched himself to observe the motions of the Philistines. Under a pomegranate-tree — A grove of pomegranate-trees. Which is in (or toward) Migron — A place near Gibeah.

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.
1 Samuel 14:3. And Ahiah, the son of Ahitub — The high-priest, who was here to attend upon the ark, which had been brought hither, 1 Samuel 14:18. The son of Eli, the Lord’s priest in Shiloh — These last words manifestly belong not to Ahiah, but to Eli, who was high-priest while the tabernacle was at Shiloh. Wearing an ephod — Or rather, the ephod; that is, the high-priest’s ephod, comprehending the breast-plate with the Urim and Thummim, which were inseparable from it. These Ahiah, being high-priest, now wore. Saul, being now in great distress, probably had sent for Ahiah, that he might consult God for him, as there should be occasion.

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.
1 Samuel 14:4. Between the passages — Two passages, both which Jonathan must cross, to go to the Philistines, and between which the following rocks lay; but the words may be rendered, in the middle of the passage; the plural number being put for the singular. There was a sharp rock — Which is not to be understood, as if in this passage one rock was on the right hand, and the other on the left; for so he might have gone between both, and there was no need of climbing up to them. But the meaning is, that the tooth (or prominence) of one rock (as it is in the Hebrew) was on the one side; that is, northward, looking toward Michmash, (the garrison of the Philistines,) and the tooth of the other rock was on the other side; that is, southward, looking toward Gibeah, (where Saul’s camp lay,) and Jonathan was forced to climb over these two rocks, because the common ways from one town to the other were obstructed.

The forefront of the one was situate northward over against Michmash, and the other southward over against Gibeah.
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.
1 Samuel 14:6. The garrison of these uncircumcised — So he calls them, to strengthen his faith by this consideration, that his enemies were enemies to God; whereas he was circumcised, and therefore in covenant with God, who was both able and engaged to assist his people. It may be — He speaks doubtfully; for though he felt himself stirred up by God to this exploit, and was assured that God would deliver his people, yet he was not certain that he would do it at this time, and in this way. That the Lord will work — Great and wonderful things. There is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or few — From this it appears that Jonathan had a true faith in the power of God, being fully persuaded that he could do every thing, and needed not the help or co-operation of natural causes.

And his armourbearer said unto him, Do all that is in thine heart: turn thee; behold, I am with thee according to thy heart.
Then said Jonathan, Behold, we will pass over unto these men, and we will discover ourselves unto them.
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.
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.
1 Samuel 14:10. This shall be a sign unto us — Jonathan, not being assured of the success of this intended exploit, desires a sign, and by the instinct of God’s Spirit pitches on this. He could upon no good ground have spoken in this manner without an impulse from God, who often suggested such thoughts and resolutions unto good men’s minds in ancient times, as we see in the example of Abraham’s servant, Genesis 24:14, &c. God, we must observe, has the governing of the hearts and tongues of all men, even of those that know him not, and serves his own purposes by them, though they mean not so, neither do their hearts think so.

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.
1 Samuel 14:11-12. Both of them discovered themselves — At the bottom of the rocks. Come up to us, &c. — A speech of contempt and derision. The Lord hath delivered them, &c. — Jonathan, hearing those of the garrison make use of the very words which he had fixed on as a sign of victory, immediately concluded that God had influenced their minds and tongues, and thereby caused them to use the words, and would certainly render his designed attempt successful. And he piously and modestly ascribes the success, which he now foresees, to God only. And he does not say, into our hand, but into the hand of Israel; for he sought not his own glory, but the public good. His faith being thus strengthened, nothing can stand against him: he climbs the rock upon all four, though he had nothing to cover him, none to second him, nor any probability of any thing but death before him.

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.
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.
1 Samuel 14:13. They fell before Jonathan — It is probable that the garrison, after they had spoken to Jonathan and his armour-bearer, concerned themselves no further about them, so that they climbed up unperceived, and fell upon the Philistines unawares, and perhaps when they were unarmed. And being endowed with extraordinary strength and courage, and having, with incredible boldness, killed the first they met with, it is not strange if the Philistines were both astonished and intimidated; God also struck them with a panic; and withal, infatuated their minds, and possibly put an evil spirit among them, which in this universal confusion made them conceive that there was treachery among themselves, and therefore caused them to sheath their swords in one another’s bowels.

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.
1 Samuel 14:14-15. Within a half acre of land — The garrison seems to have been divided into several bands, and posted upon several craggy eminences; for this first party that Jonathan attacked seems to have been quite separate from the rest. There was a trembling in the host — That is, in the whole host which was in the field. The Philistines, hearing of this slaughter of the twenty men, undoubtedly concluded that they had been attacked by a considerable number of Israelites, which put them into a great consternation. Among all the people — That is, among all the rest of their forces, as well as those in the garrison at Michmash, and the spoilers, mentioned 1 Samuel 13:17; the report of this prodigy, and with it the terror of God, speedily passing from one to another. The Hebrew is, a trembling of God, signifying not only a very great trembling, but such as was supernatural, and came immediately from the hand of God. He that made the heart knows how to make it tremble. To complete their confusion, even the earth quaked; it shook under them, and made them fear it was just going to swallow them up. Those who will not fear the eternal God, he can make afraid of a shadow.

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.
And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked; and, behold, the multitude melted away, and they went on beating down one another.
1 Samuel 14:16-17. Behold the multitude melted away — Were discomfited and scattered; so that fewer and fewer were seen in a company together. They went on beating down one another — Not being able in this confusion to distinguish their friends from their enemies. Then said Saul, Number now, &c. — Saul, upon the report of the watchmen concerning the seeming confusion in the army of the Philistines, concluded that some of his people had gone out unknown, and attacked them. He therefore ordered them to be numbered, to see who were missing.

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.
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.
1 Samuel 14:18-19. Saul said, Bring hither the ark of God — Finding only Jonathan and his armour-bearer missing, Saul did not know what to conclude, and therefore called in all haste for Ahiah the priest, to inquire of the Lord concerning it, and in what manner he and the people with him were to act. But before the priest had performed his office, the rout and flight of the Philistines were perceived so plainly that Saul called to the priest to desist, or, as it is expressed, to withdraw his hand, as there was no occasion for further inquiry, it being plain what the matter was, and what they had to do.

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.
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.
1 Samuel 14:20-21. There was a very great discomfiture — Namely, in the army of the Philistines; which, it is likely, consisted of various nations, and in the confusion into which they were thrown, they fell upon one another, not distinguishing friends from enemies. The Hebrews that were with the Philistines — Having gone with their army, either by constraint, as servants, or in policy, to gain their favour and protection. They also turned to be with the Israelites — In the midst of this battle they went over to their own countrymen.

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.
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.
So the LORD saved Israel that day: and the battle passed over unto Bethaven.
1 Samuel 14:23. The Lord saved Israel that day — Their deliverance was evidently effected by him, and that by means very extraordinary, and such as could have produced no such effect without his almighty power working thereby. The battle passed over unto Beth-aven — That is, the warriors that were engaged in the battle, and were pursuing the Philistines.

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.
1 Samuel 14:24. The men of Israel were distressed that day — With hunger, and weakness, and faintness, and all by reason of the following rash and inconsiderate oath, whereby Saul had foolishly adjured them, and to which, it is probable, they had consented. Saying, Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening — Saul’s intention in putting this oath was undoubtedly to save time, lest the Philistines should gain ground of them in their flight. But the event showed it was a false policy; for the people were so faint and weak for want of food, that they were less able to follow and slay the Philistines than if they had stopped to take a moderate refreshment. That I may be avenged of mine enemies — As Saul’s intention was good, so the matter of the obligation was not simply unlawful, if it had not been so rigorous in excluding all food, and in obliging the people to it under pain of an accursed death, which was a punishment far exceeding the fault.

And all they of the land came to a wood; and there was honey upon the ground.
1 Samuel 14:25. All they of the land — The six hundred that were with Saul, and who were now engaged in the pursuit of the Philistines, are chiefly intended here. Many others, however, from different parts of the neighbouring country, had begun to flock in, and join them as soon as they understood that their enemies fled. There was honey upon the ground — Which had dropped, as was usual, from the hollow trees, or the clefts of rocks, where bees were wont to make their combs in that country, as they also use to do in many others, and even upon the very ground.

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.
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.
1 Samuel 14:27-28. His eyes were enlightened — He was refreshed, and recovered his lost spirits. This cleared his sight, which was grown dim by hunger and faintness. Then answered one of the people — One of them that came with Saul, whose forces were now united with Jonathan’s.

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.
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.
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?
1 Samuel 14:30. How much more if the people had eaten freely — They would have been able to pursue them more swiftly, and to have done greater execution upon them, than they could when they were faint. Thus men, by their rashness, hinder what they most desire.

And they smote the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon: and the people were very faint.
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.
1 Samuel 14:32. The people flew on the spoil — Like ravenous birds. They were so faint and hungry that in the evening, when the pursuit was given over, they seized upon and devoured what was eatable of the spoil, and had not patience to wait the killing and draining of the blood from the beasts, in the manner it ought to have been done according to the law. But did eat them with (or rather in) the blood — Thus they who made conscience of obeying the king’s commandment, for fear of the curse, made no scruple of transgressing God’s command.

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.
1 Samuel 14:33-34. Ye have transgressed — He sees their fault, but not his own, in giving the occasion of it. Disperse yourselves among the people — Saul sends out his officers to charge the people that, when any more beasts were to be killed by or for any of them, they should bring them to a particular place, where he had fixed a stone for the purpose, and slay them under the inspection of proper officers.

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.
And Saul built an altar unto the LORD: the same was the first altar that he built unto the LORD.
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.
1 Samuel 14:36-37. Let us go down after the Philistines by night — Having thus refreshed themselves in the evening, Saul proposes to them to renew the pursuit, hoping to cut off the whole army of the Philistines when they were asleep in the night. Then said the priest, Let us draw near hither unto God — To the ark, in order to inquire of God. It is probable he stood before the altar, and wished to remind them that it was dangerous to undertake any thing without God’s direction. He answered him not that day — Though the priest, it seems, often asked an answer, yet he received none.

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.
And Saul said, Draw ye near hither, all the chief of the people: and know and see wherein this sin hath been this day.
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.
1 Samuel 14:39. As the Lord liveth — Here again we have a proof of Saul’s rashness and folly, and of the violence and impetuosity of his temper. As he had before adjured the people, and exposed them to an execration uttered most inconsiderately; so now he lays himself under an execration to put to death, as it turned out, even his son Jonathan, who had been the first and almost sole instrument of effecting this glorious deliverance for Israel, and that for no other fault than tasting a little honey, without knowing that he had thereby exposed himself to his father’s curse. But not a man answered him — None of those that saw Jonathan eating informed against him; because they were satisfied that his ignorance excused him; and from their great love to Jonathan, whom they would not expose to death for so small an offence.

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.
Therefore Saul said unto the LORD God of Israel, Give a perfect lot. And Saul and Jonathan were taken: but the people escaped.
1 Samuel 14:41-42. Give a perfect lot — Or, Declare the perfect, or guiltless person. That is, O Lord, so guide the lot, that it may discover who is guilty in this matter, and who innocent. The people escaped — They were pronounced guiltless. Jonathan was taken — God so ordered the lot; not that he approved Saul’s execration, (1 Samuel 14:24,) or his oath that the transgressor should die, (1 Samuel 14:39,) nor that he would expose Jonathan to death; but that Saul’s folly might be chastised, when he saw what danger it had brought upon his eldest and most excellent son; and that Jonathan’s innocence might be cleared.

And Saul said, Cast lots between me and Jonathan my son. And Jonathan was taken.
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.
And Saul answered, God do so and more also: for thou shalt surely die, Jonathan.
1 Samuel 14:44-45. Thou shalt surely die, Jonathan — This again was most rashly spoken. Saul, however, seems to have been influenced by a real fear of God, and certainly is to be commended for having a greater regard to his oath than to his kindred and natural affection. The people said, Shall Jonathan die? — Hitherto they had expressed themselves in a way that manifested their obedience to Saul, and acquiesced in what seemed good to him. But now that Jonathan is in danger, Saul’s word is no longer a law to them; but with the utmost zeal they oppose the execution of his sentence. Who hath wrought this great salvation in Israel — Shall that life be sacrificed which was so bravely exposed for the public service, and to which we owe our lives and triumphs? No, we will never stand by and see him thus treated whom God has delighted to honour. As the Lord liveth, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground — Saul had sworn that he should die; but they oppose their oath to his, and swear he shall not die. They did not rescue him by violence, but by reason and resolution. And Josephus says, “They offered prayers to God that he would forgive Jonathan’s sin,” and that he might be loosed from the curse. He hath wrought with God this day — It is plain the blessing and favour of God have been with him. It has been in concurrence with God that he has wrought this salvation. And God is so far from being offended with Jonathan, that he hath graciously owned him in the great services of this day. We may suppose Saul had not so perfectly forgot the relation of a father, but that he was willing enough to have Jonathan rescued, and well pleased to have that done which yet he would not do himself; and he that knows the heart of a father, knows not how to blame him.

It may be edifying to the reader, and therefore not improper to copy here, the following important observations of a late but anonymous writer, on the foregoing verses: “It may, at first sight, appear strange that the Divine Providence should so order things, by giving no answer to the high-priest, and causing the lots so to fall, that Jonathan, who appears entirely guiltless, should be brought into imminent danger of his life. If we consider this only in respect to Jonathan, it does indeed appear unaccountable; but if we take in his father Saul, it will appear to have been an act of divine wisdom. It is manifest, as well from the unnecessary and unprofitable oath that Saul here exacted from the people, as from many other passages of his life, that Saul was of a hasty, precipitate temper. What better lesson then could God give to him, and to all of such hasty, precipitate tempers, than to bring him into the grievous strait of either breaking a solemn oath or putting his own son to death? That this was the main intention of all that happened on this occasion appears evident, in that God inspired the people with such a courage and love for Jonathan, that they would not, upon any terms, permit even a hair of his head to fall to the ground. For we cannot suppose, if God had intended to punish Jonathan, as guilty of any crime, that the disposition of the people could have prevented his purposes, though they did those of Saul, which had no foundation in justice.”

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.
Then Saul went up from following the Philistines: and the Philistines went to their own place.
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.
1 Samuel 14:47-48. Saul took the kingdom — That is, resumed the administration of it, after he had, in a manner, lost it by the Philistines, who had almost got the entire possession of it, and enslaved Israel. And fought against all his enemies on every side — He did not invade them, as may be gathered from the next verse, but repelled them, and kept them within their own limits. He gathered a host, and smote the Amalekites; which war is described at large in the next chapter.

And he gathered an host, and smote the Amalekites, and delivered Israel out of the hands of them that spoiled them.
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:
1 Samuel 14:49. And Ishui — Called also Abinadab, 1 Samuel 31:2. Ish- bosheth, Saul’s other son, is here omitted because the sacred historian intended to mention only those of Saul’s sons who went with him into the battles here recorded, and who were afterward slain with him.

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.
And Kish was the father of Saul; and Ner the father of Abner was the son of Abiel.
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.
1 Samuel 14:52. When Saul saw any strong man, he took him — That is, when he saw any one behave well in battle, or of great strength, he took him into his band to be near to him on all occasions, and to go out to battle with him.

Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

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