Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
(1Samuel 14:1-52) Saul’s War with the Philistines—Jonathan becomes the Divinely appointed Hero for the People’s Deliverance from their restless Foes—The Battle of Michmash—Saul’s Rash Oath—The House of Saul.
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.(1) Now it came to pass.—As if in strong contrast to Saul—who at Gilgal openly made light of the supernatural assistance promised by Samuel, showing plainly by his conduct on that memorable occasion that he hardly believed in the part the invisible King had laken in the history of the people—the action of Jonathan at Michmash, which led to the rout of the Philistine army, is related with some detail. Jonathan was the typical warrior of that wild and adventurous age—recklessly brave, chivalrous, and generous, possessing evidently vast strength and unusual skill in all warlike exercises. He was animated with an intense faith in the willingness and power of the Eternal to help Israel. This mighty faith in the ever-presence of the God who chose Israel, was the mainspring of the victorious power of all the great Hebrew heroes—of men like Joshua and Gideon, Barak and Samson. David, the greatest of them all, we shall see, possessed this sublime spirit of faith in a pre-eminent degree. But King Saul utterly lacked it; hence his rejection.
The young prince’s heart burned within him at the degradation which the Philistine occupation brought upon the people. His father was too prudent to engage in battle with his own feeble and disorganised forces, so Jonathan determined, with the help of the Divine Friend of Israel, to strike a blow at these insolent foes. Under any other circumstances—without the consciousness of supernatural help—to attempt such a feat of arms would have been madness; but Jonathan had an inward conviction that an unseen Arm would hold a shield before him. It is noticeable that he never communicated his desperate purpose to his father, Saul.
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;(2) Under a pomegranate tree.—The love of Saul for trees, which was so common among the children of Israel, has been noticed. (See again 1 Samuel 22, 1Samuel 14:6. The king is spoken of as under the tamarisk of Ramali; Deborah is specially mentioned as judging Israel under the palm-tree in Beth-el.)
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.(3) Ahiah, the son of Ahitub.—The Chronicles, rehearsing these facts, show us what a terrible impression the last events in Eli’s reign as high priest had made in Israel. The destruction of Shiloh, the death of the high priest, the fall of Phinehas and his brother in battle, the melancholy circumstances of the birth of I-chabod, were still fresh in the memory of the people. Well might Jonathan be ready to sacrifice himself if he could deal an effectual blow upon these hereditary enemies of his country. Of this high priest Ahiah we never hear again in these Books of Samuel. He is generally supposed to be the same as the high priest Ahimelech, who was subsequently murdered by Doeg, by the direction of Saul, with the priests at Nob (1Samuel 22:9, &c.). The name Ahiah signifies “brother,” or “friend of the Eternal”; Ahimelech, “brother of the king,” may be another form of the same name.
Wearing an ephod.—The ephod here alluded to is not the ordinary priestly vestment of white linen, but that official garment worn alone by the high priest, in which was the breast-plate of gems with the mysterious Urim and Thummim, by which inquiry used to be made of the Lord.
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.(4) Bozez . . . Seneh.—These names are of extreme antiquity. Their signification is disputed. Possibly Bozez signifies “shining,” and Seneh “the accacia.” These rocks have been identified by modern travellers.
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.(6) And Jonathan said.—This companion in arms answered to the esquire of the knight of the middle ages. Gideon, Joab, David, and others of the famous Israelite warriors, were constantly accompanied in a similar manner by an armour-bearer.
Come, and let us go over.—Although in this history of the great deed of Jonathan there is no mention of the “Spirit of the Lord” having come upon him, as in the case of Gideon (Judges 6:34), Othniel (Judges 3:10), Samson, and others—who, in order to enable them to accomplish a particular act, were temporarily endowed with superhuman strength and courage and wisdom—there is no shadow of doubt but that in this case the “Spirit of the Lord” descended on the heroic son of Saul. All the circumstances connected with this event, which had so marked an influence on the fortunes of Israel, are evidently supernatural. The brave though desperate thought which suggested the attack, the courage and strength needful to carry it out, the strange panic which seized the Philistine garrison, the utter dismay which spread over the whole of the Philistine forces, and which caused them to fly in utter confusion before the small bands of Israelites, all belong to the same class of incidents so common in the earlier Hebrew story, when it is clear that the Glorious Arm of the Eternal helped them in a way it helped no other peoples.
The term “uncircumcised” is commonly applied to the Philistines, and to other of the enemies of Israel. It is used as a special term of reproach. The enmity between Philistia and Israel lasted over a long period, and was very bitter.
It may be that the Lord will work for us.—These words explain the apparent recklessness of Jonathan’s attempt. It was Another who would fight the armed garrison on those tall peaks opposite, and bring him safely back to his people again.
For there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few.—“O Divine power of faith, which makes a man more than men. The question is not what Jonathan can do, but what God can do, whose power is not in the means, but in Himself. There is no restraint in the Lord to save by many or by few. O admirable faith in Jonathan, whom neither the steepness of the rocks nor multitude of enemies can dissuade from such an assault.”—Bishop Hall.
And his armourbearer said unto him, Do all that is in thine heart: turn thee; behold, I am with thee according to thy heart.(7) Turn thee.—The very words of the prince’s armour-bearer seem to have been preserved; the expression is a colloquial one, and is rendered here literally. It signifies, “Go on; I will follow.”
(8) Behold, we will pass over.—The steep crag upon which the Philistine outpost was entrenched was across a deep ravine, or chasm, which separated the hostile armies.
(9) If they say thus unto us.—He longed for a supernatural sign which should confirm him in his conviction, that the prompting which urged him to this deed of extreme daring was indeed a voice from heaven.
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.(11) And the Philistines said . . . —Easily might the sentinels of the outpost have rolled stones down the steep cliff, and hurled back the daring assailants; but they treated them with utter contempt, probably thinking to take them alive if ever they succeeded in scaling the slippery cliff.
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.(13) And they fell before Jonathan . . .—The sign he prayed for was given him. There were probably but few sentinels at their posts; the inaccessibility of the craggy fortress had lulled the garrison into security. The few watching him at first mocked, and then, as Jonathan advanced with strange rapidity, they seem to have been, as it were, paralysed—the feat was hardly human—as the man, all armed, sprang over the rocky parapet. “His chief weapon was his bow,” writes Dean Stanley; “his whole tribe was a tribe of archers, and he was the chief archer of them all.” Arrived at the summit, in rapid succession he shot his deadly bolts, his gallant armour-bearer following his chief’s example. and twenty men, so says the record, fell before they had recovered their surprise. In a moment a panic seized the garrison, and a hurried flight ensued, for they felt they had to deal with no mortal strength.
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.(14) And that first slaughter . . .—Considerable doubt exists as to the exact meaning of this verse. The LXX. either had here a different text before them, or else translated, as has been suggested, “conjecturally, what they did not understand;” their rendering is “about twenty men, with darts and slings and stones of the field.” Ewald explains the Hebrew words as follows: “At the very beginning he strikes down about twenty men at once, as if a yoke of land were in course of being ploughed, which must beware of offering opposition to the sharp ploughshare in the middle of its work.” The simplest interpretation seems to be that twenty men were smitten down, one after the other, in the distance of half a rood of land. Bunsen considers this verse an extract from a poet.
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.(15) And there was trembling in the host.—The rest of the outpost garrison, panic-stricken, escaped to the other camp of the main body of the host, spreading dismay as they fled.
And the earth quaked . . .—To add to the dire confusion, an earthquake was felt, which completed the discomfiture of the Philistines; they perceived that some Divine power was fighting against them, and all the stories of the unseen Helper of the Hebrews would flash across their minds. Some would explain the earthquake as a poetical description of the extreme terror and confusion which prevailed far and near, but the literal meaning is far the best. The Eternal fought for Jonathan and Israel that day, and the powers of nature were summoned to the young hero’s aid, as they had been before, when Pharaoh pursued the people at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:26-27), as when Joshua fought the Canaanites at Beth-horon (Joshua 10:11), and as when Barak smote Sisera at Kishon (Judges 5:21).
And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked; and, behold, the multitude melted away, and they went on beating down one another.(16) And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked . . .—The distance between the outposts of the little Israelite army and the vast Philistine host was only about two miles, but a deep ravine or chasm lay between them. The watchmen of Saul were well able to see the scene of dire confusion in the outposts, a confusion which they could discern was rapidly spreading through the more distant camp of the main body.
The Hebrew words, vayēleh vahălom, in the last clause of the verse, have been variously rendered; the Rabbinical interpretation is the best: “magis magisque pangebatur”—“were more and more broken up.” This takes hălom as an infinitive absolute. The LXX. considers this word an adverb, and translates enthen hai enthen, hither and thither, and does not attempt to give any rendering for vayēleh.
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.(17) Then said Saul . . .—When this panic which was taking place in the Philistine army was reported to King Saul, he naturally inquired as to what had caused it, knowing that he, as general-in-chief, had given no directions to any of his men to attack the enemy. In the little Israelitish force, when the roll was called, it was soon discovered who was missing.
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.(18) And Saul said unto Ahiah . . .—The LXX. renders here, “And Saul said to Ahijah, Bring hither the ephod; for he bore the ephod in those days before the children of Israel.” This is a statement easily to be understood. Saul was in doubt what to do under the present emergency. Should he—seeing the panic that was evidently increasing in the Philistine camp, and knowing nothing of the cause, only that his son and the armour-bearer were missing—should he risk his little force, and, leaving his strong position, attack that great host of apparently panic-stricken enemies? So he sent for the high priest Ahijah, and bade him consult the Urim and Thummim in his ephod.
But the Hebrew and all the versions read as in our English Version, “Bring hither the Ark of God” What does this mean? Was the Ark, then, with that little band of Saul? We never before, or after, find the slightest hint that the sacred coffer ever left the “city of woods” (Kiriath-yearim) until David bore it to Zion. Then, again, the word preceding “Bring hither” is never used in connection with the Ark. No question or oracle could be asked of the Ark or by the Ark. The Urim and Thummim, whatever these mysterious objects were alone were used to give answers to questions solemnly asked by king and people, and this Urim and Thummim were connected, not with the Ark, but with the high-priestly ephod. On the whole, the reading of the LXX. probably represents the original Hebrew. The present Hebrew text, with the word “Ark,” is, however, clearly of extreme antiquity; the second part of the verse is most likely an explanatory gloss of some ancient scribe. Josephus’ account of this transaction shows us that he had before him a text corresponding to the LXX. His words are, “He bid the priest take the garment of his high priesthood and prophesy” (Antiq., 6 § 3). Maurer prefers the present Hebrew text, for he says, At that supreme moment of danger Saul wanted not the advice of an oracle, but rather the help and encouragement which the presence of the sacred Ark would give to his handful of soldiers. But this would rather degrade Saul to the level of the superstitious Hophni and Phinehas, the wicked sons of Eli. who, it will be remembered, exposed and lost the sacred Ark in the fatal battle in which they perished. Saul, with all his faults, was a far nobler type of man than those profligate, though brave, priests.
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.(19) Withdraw thine hand.—The instinct of the general, as we should expect from the character of Saul, soon got the better of his first desire for some Divine guidance. His watchful eye saw that the confusion in the Philistine camp was increasing; now was the moment for his little compact force to throw itself into the melée; so he at once bids Ahijah, the priest of the Lord, to put up the Urim and Thummim, and no longer to seek higher counsel, for the hour was come to fight rather than to pray. This has been the general interpretation of Saul’s action here. Wordsworth quotes Bishop Andrewes, saying, “There are some who with Saul will call for the Ark, and will presently cry ‘Away with it !’ that is, will begin their prayers, and break them off in the midst on every occasion.” And Bishop Hall: “Saul will consult the Ark; hypocrites, when they have leisure, will perhaps be holy. But when the tumult was aroused, Saul’s piety decreased. ‘Withdraw thine hand,’ he said; the Ark must give place to arms.’”
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.(20) Assembled themselves.—In the margin of the English Version we find “were cried together,” that is, “were assembled by the trumpet call.” The Syriac and Vulg., however, more accurately render the Hebrew shouted, that is, raised the war-cry of Israel.
Every man’s sword was against his fellow.—The statement in the next verse (21) explains this. Profiting by the wild confusion which reigned now throughout the Philistine host, a portion of their own auxiliaries—unwilling allies, doubtless—turned their arms against their employers or masters. From this moment no one in the panic-stricken army could rightly distinguish friend from foe. In such a scene of confusion the charge of Saul, at the head of his small but well-trained soldierly band, must have done terrible execution. Shouting the well-known war-cry of Benjamin, it penetrated wedge-like into the heart of the broken Philistine host.
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.(21) Moreover the Hebrews that were with the Philistines.—These Israelites were, most likely, prisoners who had been compelled to fight against their countrymen, or were levies raised in those parts of the land more immediately under Philistine influence. These, we read, took the first opportunity to go over to Saul. Other Israelites—probably the men of whole villages, who had been compelled, as the result of the late Philistine successes, to desert their homesteads, and seek a precarious living in the hills—joined in the pursuit of the now flying Philistine armies. This is the meaning of the words of the 22nd verse, which speaks of “the men of Israel which had hid themselves in Mount Ephraim.”
So the LORD saved Israel that day: and the battle passed over unto Bethaven.(23) So the Lord saved Israel . . .—The identical words used at the Red Sea, after the deliverance of the people from Egypt. So the battle rolled westward through Beth-aven, past city and village, over Mount Ephraim. It was a decisive victory, crushing in its results to the Philistines, who were driven back so effectually as not to re-appear till the close of Saul’s reign. The king was now at liberty to develop the military character of the people; and till the disaster which closed his life and reign, his various campaigns against the idolatrous nations who surrounded Israel generally appear to have gone on from victory to victory.
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.(24) And the men of Israel were distressed that day.—The LXX., between the 23rd and 24th verses, has a somewhat long addition: “And the whole people was with Saul, about ten thousand men; and the battle spread in the whole city, in the mountains of Ephraim; and Saul committed a great error.” The number 10,000 is not an improbable one, as the original small force which had kept with Saul and Jonathan had been joined by the Hebrew auxiliaries in the Philistine camp, and also by many of the fugitives from the villages around. They were, we read, “distressed,” that is, were wearied out by the long pursuit on the Ephraim hills.
For Saul had adjured the people.—Better, And Saul, &c.; that is, the king was so intent upon his vengeance—so bent upon pursuing to the uttermost these Philistines who so long had defied his power, and who had brought him so low—that he grudged his soldiers the necessary rest and refreshment, and, with a terrible vow, devoted to death any one who should on that day of blood slack his hand for a moment, even to take food.
And all they of the land came to a wood; and there was honey upon the ground.(25) And all they of the land came to a wood.—In the wilder parts of the land the old woods were not yet cleared. There seems to have been once in that favoured land an abundance of woods.
And there was honey . . .—The wild bees, as has been often seen in the American forests, fill the hollow trees with honey, till the combs, breaking with the weight, let the honey run down upon the 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.(26) Behold, the honey dropped.—Literally,. Behold, a stream of honey.
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.(27) He put forth the end of the rod.—Most likely, with the point of his staff took up a piece of the honeycomb. Jonathan in that hurried battle and pursuit had heard nothing of his father’s rash oath, and was, no doubt, owing to his exertions in the earlier part of that eventful day, worn out with fatigue and hunger.
And his eyes were enlightened.—This simply means that the natural dimness caused by extreme exhaustion passed away when his long fast was broken; literally, his eyes became bright. Hence the Talmud comments: “Whoever suffers from the effects of intense hunger, let him eat honey and other sweet things, for such eatables are efficacious in restoring the light of one’s eyes . . . Thus we read of Jonathan, “See, I pray you, how my eyes have been enlightened because I tasted a little of this honey” (1Samuel 14:27).—Treatise Yoma, fol. 83, Colossians 2.
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.(28) Then answered one of the people.—Most probably, in reply to Jonathan’s pointing out the plentiful supply of honey, and inviting the soldiers near him to refresh themselves with it. The words “and the people were faint,” at the close of the verse, should be rendered, and the people are faint; they were part of the speech of the soldier who was telling Jonathan of his father’s rash oath.
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.(29) My father hath troubled the land.—In other words, “My father’s ill-considered vow has done-grave harm to us in Israel. Had he not weakened the people, by hindering them from taking the needful refreshment, our victory would have been far more complete. Utter exhaustion has prevented us from following up our victory.”
And they smote the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon: and the people were very faint.(31) From Michmash to Aijalon.—The battle and pursuit had then extended some twenty miles of country. Again the extreme weariness of the Israelites is mentioned. Aijalon, the modern Yälo, is some eighteen or twenty miles from Michmash, where the main body of the Philistine army had been encamped.
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.(32) And the people flew upon the spoil . . . —No doubt, had the men of Israel not been so faint for want of food, and utterly weary, many more of the Philistine host would have fallen: as it was, vast spoil was left behind in the hurried flight; but it was the beasts that the conquerors greedily seized, their hunger was so great. “The moment that the day, with its enforced fast, was over, they flew, like Mussulmans at sunset during the fast of Ramazan, upon the captured cattle, and devoured them, even to the brutal neglect of the Law forbidding the eating of flesh which contained blood.”—Stanley. (See Leviticus 17:10-14; Leviticus 19:26.)
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.(33) Roll a great stone unto me this day.—The object of this was that the people should kill their beasts upon the stone, and the blood could run off upon the ground. It was a rough expedient, but it showed the wild soldiers that their king and general determined that the Law of Moses should be kept and honoured, even under circumstances of the direst necessity. This scrupulous care for the “Law of the Lord” at such a time as the evening of the battle of Michmash shows us what a strange complex character was Saul’s: now superstitiously watchful lest the letter of the Law should be broken; now recklessly careless whether or not the most solemn commands of God were executed.
And Saul built an altar unto the LORD: the same was the first altar that he built unto the LORD.(35) The same was the first altar that he built . . .—More accurately, as in margin, the same he began to build as an altar. The great Jewish commentators are divided as to the precise meaning of the old Hebrew language of this verse. Abarbanel interprets the words, “that King Saul began to build, but did not finish.” The Midrash prefers to understand the statement as telling how “Saul began among the kings of Israel the building of altars.” The more obvious meaning, if we translate as in our English Version, seems to be that this was the first public acknowledgment King Saul made to God for the mercies and goodness vouchsafed to him.
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.(36) Let us go down after the Philistines by night.—In the depth of the night, when the rough feasting on the captured beasts was over, King Saul would have had the bloody work begun afresh, and would have hurried after the flying Philistines, and with a wild butchery have completed the great and signal victory. With the implicit obedience which his soldiers seem ever to have shown him—whether a vow of total abstinence, or a desperate charge, or a wild night attack, or a ruthless bloodshed, was enjoined on them by their stern and gloomy king—the army professed themselves at once ready again to fight. Only one man in that army flushed with victory dared, with the bravery which alone proceeds from righteousness, to withstand the imperious sovereign. The high priest, Ahiah, doubted whether such a wholesale bloodshed as would surely have resulted from the conquering troops of Saul pursuing a dispersed and vanquished enemy, was in accordance with the will of God. No command to exterminate these Philistines had ever been given, and that day, so glorious in the annals of Israel, was wholly due to the special interposition of the Eternal Friend of Israel. Ahiah said, “Let us first inquire of the oracles of God”—alluding, of course, to the jewels of Urim and Thummim on his high-priestly ephod.
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.(37) And Saul asked counsel of God.—The same phrase is always used in the many passages in the Books of Judges, 1 Sam., 2 Sam., 1 Chron., Hosea, &c. when God was inquired of by the Urim and Thummim. It may be styled the technical term of inquiry of the Oracle of the Most High; there are, however, slight. variations in the English translations of this phrase.
But he answered him not . . .—When the mysterious gems refused to shine, or in any way to signify the Divine approbation or disapproval, the high-priestly questioner seems, as in this instance, to have concluded that some public transgression had been committed, and that special atonement must be made before the desired answer could be expected. The sacred gems probably remained dull and lightless the night was wearing on, and Saul chafed at the unexpected delay, and in his impetuous anger uttered the wild words on which we are about to comment.
And Saul said, Draw ye near hither, all the chief of the people: and know and see wherein this sin hath been this day.(38) Draw ye near hither.—Round that rough unfinished altar, in the dark night, King Saul hastily summoned his leading officers and the prominent chiefs of the Israelites who had joined him in the late battle. The word rendered “chief of the people” (pinnoth) is literally, corner stones (as in Judges 20:2).
He would ask God’s help in the casting of lots, to discover who of these was the transgressor, whose sin made dumb the Divine Oracle.
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.(39) Though it be in Jonathan my son.—“Were Jonathan himself the transgressor, he [Saul] would not spare his life; and so, feeling inwardly bound by his oath, presses for decision by means of the sacred lot, amid the ominous silence of the horror-stricken people.”—Ewald.
Therefore Saul said unto the LORD God of Israel, Give a perfect lot. And Saul and Jonathan were taken: but the people escaped.(41) Give a perfect lot.—The rendering in the margin, “show the innocent,” is a better and more accurate rendering of the Hebrew. “Give a perfect lot” is the translation given by Rabbi D. Kimchi. Dean Payne Smith observes that “there are few mistakes of the English Version which have not some good authority for them, as King James’ translators were singularly well versed in Jewish literature, while they seem strangely to have neglected the still higher authority of the ancient versions.”
In the forty-first and in the following verse the LXX. version is lengthened out with a long paraphrase, which, however, contains no fact of additional interest.
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.(43, 44) Lo, I must die.—These wild and thoughtless vows are peculiarly characteristic of this half-barbaric period. We have already observed that the age now closing had been peculiarly the age of vows. A similar terrible oath, equalling Saul’s in its rashness, had been taken by Jephthah. It is noticeable that not only Saul, who vowed the vow, but Jonathan, its victim, were convinced that the vow, though perhaps hastily and rashly made, must be kept. “Against both these,” says Erdman in Lange with great force “rises the people’s voice as the voice of God, the question (in 1Samuel 14:45), ‘Shall Jonathan die? ‘and the answer,’ Far be it,’ expresses the sorrowful astonishment and the energetic protest of the people, who were inspired by Jonathan’s heroic deed and its brilliant result. . . . Over against Saul’s oath the people set their own: ‘As the Lord liveth, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground.’ Probably Saul was not unwilling in this awful question, when his son’s life trembled in the balance, to submit his will for once to the people’s.”
“Take then no vow at random: ta’en in faith,
Preserve it; yet not bent, as Jephthah once,
Blindly to execute a rash resolve,
Whom better it had suited to exclaim,
‘I have done ill than to redeem his pledge
By doing worse.”—Dante, Paradise, 5:63-68.
Then Saul went up from following the Philistines: and the Philistines went to their own place.(46) Then Saul went up from following the Philistines.—Saul recognised now that the fault which caused the oracle of the Urim and Thummim to keep silence was his, and not Jonathan’s. He seems quietly to have acquiesced with Ahijah’s evident reluctance to countenance a public pursuit; he drew off his forces then from the direction of the enemy, and went up, no doubt, to Gibeah; but the power of the Philistines for the time seems to have been utterly broken, and they retreated to their own districts along the sea coasts.
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.(47) So Saul took the kingdom over Israel.—Some expositors closely connect this verse with the successful termination of the Philistine war, considering that it was through this great victory over the nation which had so long harassed and impoverished Israel that Saul really acquired for the first time the regal authority over all Israel, and that previously his rule had only been acknowledged in certain of the tribes. It is, however, better to consider the statement contained in this verse as simply a general view of Saul’s reign, which was a reign of perpetual wars. The words, then, of our verse are simply introductory to the list of wars waged from the very beginning of his government. It should be observed that this view is supported by the mention of the Ammonite war, which took place a considerable time before the events just related. Such a mention would, therefore, be out of place, unless we take this verse as containing a general statement—in other words, “Saul assumed the reins of government, and during his reign he waged the following wars.”
On every side . . . Moab . . . Ammon . . . Edom . . . Zobah . . . Philistines.—This enumeration of the nations with whom he fought literally included the countries on every side of the Land of Promise. Moab and Ammon bounded the Israelites on the east; Edom on the south; the Philistines on the west, along the coast of the Mediterranean; while Zobah was a district of Syria on the north-east of the territory of the twelve tribes, lying between the Euphrates and the Syrian Orontes.
He vexed them.—The exact sense of the Hebrew word yar’shia, rendered in our version “he vexed,” has puzzled all commentators. The LXX. evidently read another word here, as they translate it by esōzeto, “he was preserved.” The majority of the versions and Gesenius, however, give the real sense: “Whithersoever he (Saul) turned himself lie was victorious.” Luther’s rendering is scholarly: “Whithersoever he turned he inflicted punishment,” and is adopted by Keil.
And he gathered an host, and smote the Amalekites, and delivered Israel out of the hands of them that spoiled them.(48) Smote the Amalekites.—Out of the many wars the king waged, this war with Amalek is singled out, for in the new development of Hebrew power by which Saul’s reign was marked this campaign or series of campaigns was especially prominent. This war is related with some detail in the next chapter, but it is there introduced on account of other considerations. The English translators in their rendering, “he gathered an host,” have followed the Syriac and Vulg.; the marginal translation, “he wrought mightily,” is the more accurate.
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:(49) The sons of Saul.—The three brave sons who perished with their father in the battle on Mount Gilboa are apparently mentioned here, the only difficulty being the middle name, “Ishui,” which occurs nowhere else, save in two genealogies as that of a son of Asher (Genesis 46:17; 1Chronicles 7:30). It is supposed to be the same as the Abinadab mentioned in that battle. His two daughters, Merab and Michal, are speciallynamed, probably owing to their connection with the history of David (1Samuel 18:17-21), the elder of them having been promised to him in marriage, and the younger being actually wedded to 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.(50) Saul’s wife.—In accordance with a usual practice, the name of the most prominent of the family and royal household of the king are given. We know nothing of Saul’s queen besides her name. It has been surmised that she was of the family of Eli, the high priest, owing to the Ah (brother) entering into her name and that of her father, Ahimaaz, as this compound was apparently the favourite prefix to names in this great and renowned house. The simplicity and modesty of the king’s domestic habits is evident. Ewald thinks from this circumstance that he had only this one wife and one concubine, Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah, afterwards so famous for her sad misfortunes and for her devoted love to her ill-fated children. (See 2Samuel 21:8-12.)
The captain of his host was Abner.—This “cousin”—or, as some have understood the sentence, the uncle—of King Saul was evidently a man of rare powers and ability. The brilliant campaigns of this reign were, no doubt, in no small measure owing to the military skill of this great commander. After the terrible disaster on Mount Gilboa, Abner was the mainstay of the house of the dead King Saul, and when he died the generous David followed the bier, and lamented over him with a lamentation which has come down to us in words ever memorable: “Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel.” His son Jaasiel was subsequently allowed the first place in the tribe of Benjamin. (See 1Chronicles 27:21.)
And Kish was the father of Saul; and Ner the father of Abner was the son of Abiel.(51) The son of Abiel.—For “son” the commentators mostly agree we must read sons. Kish and Ner, we know, were both sons of Abiel. (See 1Chronicles 9:35-36, where, however, the father’s name is given as Jehiel.)
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.(52) All the days of Saul.—Although after the rout of Michmash the Philistines were driven out of their fastnesses in the land of Israel back into their own coast districts, yet all through the reign of Saul they continued to be powerful, and were a constant source of danger and trouble to the people. We know that in the end Saul lost his life in an engagement with this warlike and restless race, who were not finally crushed before the days of his successor, David. To keep them in check necessitated the maintenance of a standing army, which, in the days of David, became one of the great armed forces of the East. The reader of this verse is reminded at once of a similar military fancy of King Frederick William of Prussia, the founder of Prussian military greatness, and the father of the Great Frederick.