1 Samuel 14
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1 Samuel 14:1-15. (GEBA, MICHASH.)
Come, and let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised, etc. (ver. 6). The character of Jonathan is one of the bravest, most generous: devout, and blameless in history. Of his earliest years nothing is recorded. When first mentioned he was in command of a thousand soldiers (1 Samuel 13:2), and his overthrow of the Philistine garrison in Geba was the first act of the war of independence;" but (as in the case of Moses - Acts 7:25) it failed to deliver his people from oppression. His attack upon the enemy's camp at Michmash, which is here described, resulted in victory. He inherited the physical strength and courage of Saul; but in other respects presented a contrast to his father; exemplified the best, as the latter exemplified some of the worst features of the age, and set a pattern of true heroism for all time.

"What makes a hero? an heroic mind
Expressed in action, in endurance proved."

I. EXALTED ASPIRATIONS (ver. 1) which -

1. Are cherished in adverse circumstances (1 Samuel 13:22; ver. 2). Instead of being crushed by adversity, "an heroic mind" bears it patiently, rises above it, and aspires to higher things (Acts 21:13). In its midst it shines all the more brightly, like gold purified by the fire.

2. Lead to courageous projects. Jonathan often looks across the ravine between Bozez and Seneh (vers. 4, 5), and revolves in his mind how he can strike a blow at the apparently inaccessible fortress of the enemy; and at length goes forth secretly in the night or at early dawn, attended only by his armour bearer. To communicate his project to others, even if it were as yet clear to himself, would be to hinder or defeat its accomplishment. He feels called to attempt something great, and "confers not with flesh and blood."

3. Are inspired by the Divine Spirit. More of "the mind of the Lord was doubtless made known to Jonathan than to the king, notwithstanding the presence of the priest with him (ver. 3). What appears presumption to others is often to one Divinely taught the simple path of duty.

II. EMINENT FAITH (ver. 6), including -

1. A firm conviction of the covenant relation of God to his people. "These uncircumcised" in opposition to Israel. Jonathan's thought was not of himself, but of his people, and of the promises and purposes of God concerning them.

2. A lofty conception of the unlimited power of God to save them. "There is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few" (2 Chronicles 14:11; Micah 2:7). In comparison with his might the strength of man, whether much or little, is nothing. He has often used "the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty" (1 Corinthians 1:27, 28), and he can do so again. Faith is shown in contemplating the power of God, and is thereby greatly increased.

3. Humble reliance on the gracious cooperation of God on their behalf. "It may be that the Lord will work for us." He is ready and able to afford help, but whether it will be given in connection with a particular course of action is, without express direction or promise, uncertain; and the indications of his will should be followed with humility, hopefulness, and confidence. "The measure of faith is the measure of God's help." "All things are possible to him that believeth."


1. In contrast to reckless adventure. Faith in God gives insight into the hidden principles and tendencies of things, teaches the adoption of appropriate means, and makes men calm as well as fearless when others lose self-control, and adopt foolish and dangerous expedients (Acts 27:25, 30).

2. In ascertaining the prospects of success. If the enemy are on the alert and exhibit courage, it will be vain to expect to take them by surprise (ver. 9); but if they feel themselves secure in their position, are careless and slack, and blinded by self-confidence, "the Lord hath delivered them into the hand of Israel" (ver. 12).

3. In working wisely with a view to that end. God works by means, and not without them, and the wisest means are the most successful.

IV. DARING ENERGY (vers. 11-14) in -

1. Enduring great risk.

2. Putting forth immense effort. "Jonathan climbed up on his hands and knees." It is a severe as well as a dangerous climb to reach the point where the conflict begins.

3. Following up every advantage to the utmost. "When he came in full view of the enemy they both discharged such a flight of arrows, stones, and pebbles from their bows, crossbows, and slings that twenty men fell at the first onset, and the garrison fled in a panic."

V. INSPIRING SYMPATHY (vers. 7, 13). A believing and heroic spirit begets the same spirit in others.

1. At first those with whom it comes into closest contact - it may be a single individual.

2. Afterwards a host (vers. 21, 22).

3. And their aid contributes to the general result. "The history of battles should teach us the mighty power of sympathetic relations."


1. Expressed in the overthrow of the enemy - bringing them into confusion (ver. 15), turning them against one another (ver. 16), and saving Israel from their oppression, as well as in the Providential ordering of all things that contributed to it.

2. In commendation of "the spirit of faith" in which the enterprise was undertaken and carried out.

3. Recognised by all the people. "He hath wrought with God this day" (ver. 45) - wrought effectually through his favour and power. The day was won by Jonathan; still more by God. "So the Lord saved Israel that day" (ver. 23). And to him the glory must be ascribed. - D.

Withdraw thine hand (ver. 19). In order to ascertain the will of God two things are necessary: -

1. A special method of communication. In ancient days it was "by dreams, Urim, and prophets" (1 Samuel 28:6). The Urim (light, illumination) and Thummim (perfection, completeness, truth) were symbols of some kind or other attached to or placed within the folded breastplate connected with the ephod of the high priest (Exodus 28:30; Numbers 27:21). "The question brought was one affecting the well being of the nation, or its army, or its king. The inquirer spoke in a low whisper, asking one question only at a time. The high priest, fixing his gaze on the 'gems oracular' that 'lay on his heart,' fixed his thoughts on the light and perfection which they symbolised, on the holy name inscribed on them. The act was itself a prayer, and, like other prayers, it might be answered. After a time he passed into the new, mysterious, half ecstatic state. All disturbing elements - selfishness, prejudice, the fear of man - were eliminated. He received the insight he craved. Men trusted in his decisions, as with us men trust the judgment which has been purified by prayer for the help of the eternal Spirit more than that which grows only out of debate and policy and calculation" (Smith's 'Dic.'). "When at length a visible king reigned by Divine appointment, the counsel of the Urim and Thummim passed into the public ministry of the prophets, which modified and controlled the political organisations of the kings" ('Bible Educ.,' 4:37). We have now the written word and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

2. A proper spirit of inquiry - humility, sincerity, faith, patience, and perseverance. Saul "inquired of the Lord" (Judges 1:1; Judges 20:27; 1 Samuel 10:22), but not in a right manner, impatiently breaking off his inquiry before the answer came, and commanding the priest to desist from pursuing it. In like manner many persons begin to pray, and forthwith cease, instead of "continuing instant in prayer;" ask, and wait not to receive; call upon God under the pressure of trouble, and neglect to do so when it has passed away. Such impatience in seeking to "understand what the will of the Lord is" -


1. The need of human effort, as if nothing else were necessary to success (Psalm 23:16, 17; 127:1, 2).

2. The gain of earthly honour or other advantages. Saul was eager to obtain, beyond everything else, the glory of a victory over his enemies.

3. The loss of a favorable opportunity. But "there is no time lost while we are waiting God's time. It is as acceptable a piece of submission to the will of God to sit still contentedly when our Lord requires it as to work for him when we are called to do it" (M. Henry).


1. Inappreciation of its worth. Men often imagine that their own wisdom and strength are sufficient, and that it can be done without.

2. Indisposition to bow to its authority. They love to have their own way.

3. Incredulity as to its communication at the right time and in the right manner. They disbelieve the promises as well as reject the conditions of obtaining them.


1. Seeking him in an insincere, inconsistent, and hypocritical manner, which the cessation of prayer plainly shows (Job 27:10).

2. Preferring personal and immediate convenience to his honor, and desiring his help only in so far as it may be conducive to self-interest.

3. Disobedience to his will; for to act without the knowledge of that will when it may be obtained is a manifest act of disobedience (Isaiah 30:1).


1. Destitution of the highest counsel and aid.

2. Unpreparedness for duty and conflict.

3. A course of recklessness, sin, trouble, and humiliation (vers. 24, 37, 39, 44, 45). "Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually" (Hosea 12:6). "I will hear what God the Lord will speak," etc. (Psalm 85:8). - D.

1 Samuel 14:24-46. (MICHMASH, AJALON.)
Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening, etc. (ver. 24). Rashness is often a cause of trouble; and some persons might profitably ponder the advice once given by the town clerk of Ephesus, "Do nothing rashly" (Acts 19:36). It is also, sometimes, very sinful, as it was in Saul. Whilst pursuing the Philistines, and wishing to exterminate them, he imposed a solemn oath upon the people not to take food until the evening under penalty of death. This rash oath was followed by two others of a similar nature (vers. 39, 44), all indicating the recklessness and wilfulness of his course. His concern for the law (vers. 33, 34), his erection of an altar (ver. 35), his asking counsel of God before going to spoil the enemy by night (ver. 37), his eagerness to ascertain by lot the cause of the silence of the oracle (ver. 41), were not an exhibition of genuine piety; they were rather a substitute for it, and the fruits of an unsanctified, blind, and passionate zeal; and the death of the noble Jonathan, if it had taken place, would have completed his folly and sin. Consider his rashness as -


1. Inconsideration. His oath was uttered without deliberation (Ecclesiastes 5:2). He did not consider whether it was according' to the will of God, nor what its consequences might be. He did not afterwards reflect how far the transgressions of others and the silence of Heaven might be due to his own fault, and he did not apparently recognise his fault when plainly set before him.

2. Insincerity. "It did not proceed from a proper attitude toward God, but was an act of false zeal in which he had more regard to himself and his own kingly power than to the cause of the kingdom of Jehovah" (Keil).

3. Vainglory. "That I may be avenged on mine enemies." "In this prohibition there was a secret pride and misuse of power, for he desired to force, as it were a complete victory, and then appropriate the glory of it to himself."

II. IMPOSING A NEEDLESS BURDEN upon others. Once and again it is said "the people were faint" (vers. 28, 31). They were exhausted with severe and prolonged exertion, famished with hunger, and unable to continue the pursuit. Their suffering was great, their power diminished, their temptation strong. But Saul had thought only of himself. Rulers should seek the welfare of their subjects rather than their own glory; and all men should consider the effect of their resolutions, promises, and commands on other people, and use their influence over them for their good.

III. OCCASIONING GRIEVOUS SIN in them (vers. 32-35). They avoided one offence only to commit another with a rashness equal to that of Saul himself (Genesis 9:4; Deuteronomy 12:16; Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 7:27). He censured and checked them. Would that he had also censured and checked himself! But men who severely condemn the faults of others are often blind to their own, even when the former reflect and are occasioned by the latter (Psalm 19:12, 13). The altar, erected doubtless with a view to the presentation upon it of thank offerings for the victory, was still more needed for the sin offerings (expiatory) which ought to have been offered on behalf both of ruler and people (Leviticus 4:13, 22).

IV. IMPERILLING INNOCENT LIFE. Not having heard the oath, Jonathan, in unconsciously violating it (ver. 27), was morally blameless. Yet his act could not be passed by with due regard to the great name in which the people had been adjured. It interrupted Divine communications (ver. 37), and resulted in his being chosen by the lot (ver. 42). Again Saul should have been led to consider his own error as its cause, and a trespass or guilt offering might have sufficed (Leviticus 5:4). To inflict the "curse" would be wholly unjust, as is implied in Jonathan's simple, mild, and submissive remonstrance (ver. 43). But Saul's last oath was more reckless than his first; it was ignorant and wilful, showed more concern about the literal fulfilment of his word than humble and faithful obedience to a higher will, and brought him to the brink of a great crime.

"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, 'Par.' 5.)

V. BRINGING DEEP HUMILIATION (ver. 45). The ominous silence of the people (ver. 39) is followed by their unanimous and resolute voice, in which reason and justice, conscience and God, speak with irresistible might. They set their will in opposition to his, and he is compelled to submit. His purpose is frustrated. "The son is raised above the father, and the people above the king." But although his sin is now forced home upon him, of voluntary submission there is no sign. Rashness and self-will are sure to meet with a check, and happy is he who lays to heart the lesson which it teaches.

VI. DEFEATING ITS OWN AIMS. (ver. 46). "My father hath brought disaster on the land," etc. (vers. 29, 30; Joshua 7:25). The completeness of the overthrow of the enemy is marred. The opportunity of inflicting a fatal blow upon them is lost. "And there was sore war against the Philistines all the days of Saul" (ver. 52). That which begins in rashness ends in disappointment and grief. - D.

Of the fallen house of Eli, one at least, Ahiah (Ahimelech - 1 Samuel 21:1), the grandson of Phinehas, appears to have been a faithful servant of God. When the people, having ended their pursuit of the Philistines and satisfied their hunger, rested around their gleaming camp fires, and Saul proposed a nocturnal expedition against the enemy so as "not to leave a man of them, he devoutly and courageously interposed with the words, "Let us draw near hither unto God." He had already witnessed the effects of the king's rashness, feared its further results, and felt that "it was dangerous to undertake anything without asking counsel of God" (see ver. 19). His language is suggestive of -


1. A possibility. For God is "nigh at hand, and not afar off" (Deuteronomy 4:7; Psalm 145:18; Jeremiah 23:23). He has provided a way of access - an altar (Hebrews 13:10), a sacrifice, and a high priest (Hebrews 7:19; Hebrews 10:20-22; Ephesians 2:18). The throne of God is not only a throne of glory and of judgment, but also a throne of grace. "The Lamb is in the midst of the throne."

2. A privilege. What higher privilege or honour can be conferred than to hold intercourse with so glorious a Being? What greater benefit than his fellowship, counsel, and aid? (Psalm 73:28).

3. An obligation, arising out of his relationship to men, and indicated by his word, by conscience, and the deepest needs and impulses of the soul. "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you" (James 4:8; Psalm 43:4). "Ye people, pour out your heart before him" (Psalm 62:8).

II. THE VOCATION OF A FAITHFUL MINISTER with respect to this exercise. It is -

1. To bear a fearless testimony concerning it before the people: setting forth the supreme claims of God upon their homage, reminding them of their want, reproving their forgetfulness, and teaching them the good and right way (1 Samuel 12:23).

2. To exhibit a devotional spirit in his intercourse with them. He who exhorts others to pray should be himself a man of prayer, and speak to them by his example as well as by his words. Exhortation to them is often less beneficial than intercession for them. "We will give ourselves continually to prayer" (Acts 6:4).

3. To invite them to sincere union with him in seeking the face of God. "Let us draw near." "Let us pray" - not merely with the lips or in outward form, not regarding iniquity in the heart; but humbly and sincerely, with one accord, with a true heart, and in full assurance of faith (Psalm 66:18; 1 Timothy 2:8).

III. THE INFLUENCE OF TIMELY INTERVENTION On the part of a good man. "Then (when both king and people were about to set forth without seeking Divine counsel) said the priest," etc.; and he did not speak in vain (ver. 37). Such advice and prayer are generally effectual -

1. In restraining from the pursuit of a wrong course - a doubtful or dangerous enterprise, devotion to worldly objects, following selfish and revengeful inclinations, etc. A single "word in season" sometimes prevents much mischief.

2. In constraining to the performance of neglected duty. The inquiry which Saul had broken off was now formally resumed, though not on his part in a right spirit.

3. In obtaining the possession of needful good. It is not always what is sought. There may be delay or refusal in granting a definite answer; but the experience thereby gained is itself beneficial, and the necessary condition of obtaining the highest good.

IV. THE INSTRUCTIVENESS OF UNANSWERED PRAYER. "He answered him not that day" (1 Samuel 28:6, 15). The silence of God is significant. It indicates -

1. The presence of sin, which hinders the communications of Heaven, as a cloud intercepts the beams of the sun (Isaiah 59:2; Lamentations 3:44; Hosea 5:15; James 4:2, 3).

2. The duty of its discovery, by means of diligent inquiry and self-examination (Joshua 7:13; Psalm 139:23, 24; Lamentations 3:40).

3. The necessity of humiliation, removing "the accursed thing," and turning to God with full purpose of heart, so that he may cause his face to shine upon us. "Praying will either make a man leave off sinning or sinning will make him leave off praying." In the former case his path is upward into the light, in the latter it is downward into darkness and despair. - D.

1 Samuel 14:45. (AJALON.)
The obedience which subjects owe to the commands of a ruler is not absolute, but limited by their obligation to a higher law. When he determines on measures which are not good they have a right to remonstrate, and are sometimes bound to do so. Concerning the remonstrance of the people with Saul (after yielding notable obedience in other things - vers. 26, 34, 36), observe that it was -

I. JUST; in opposition to an unreasonable, arbitrary, and cruel decision (ver. 44), in defence of the innocent, and impelled by "an enlightened conscience and generous enthusiasm."

II. DEVOUT; recognising the hand of God in the victory of Jonathan, testifying their gratitude for the deliverance wrought through him, and obeying a higher will, thereby indicated, in preference to that of the king.

III. RESOLUTE; whilst stating the ground of their determination, manifesting a disposition to carry it into effect, and binding themselves by a united and solemn oath to do so.

IV. SUCCESSFUL. They prevailed, Jonathan was rescued, a great crime was prevented, and Saul was checked and warned in his despotic career. When the people remonstrate in the same manner they may expect the same success. - D.

1 Samuel 14:45. (AJALON.)
He hath wrought with God this day. Apart from the power of God man can do nothing. In opposition to it he is defeated and crushed. Only in cooperation with it can he accomplish anything great or good. As in the material, so in the moral and spiritual world it is our wisdom, strength, and dignity to be "labourers together with God" (1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 6:1). Notice -

I. THE AIM of this cooperation.

1. To overcome sin and misery amongst men.

2. To promote righteousness and happiness in ourselves and others.

3. To extend the kingdom and glory of God.


1. Studying the laws or modes of God's working (Ecclesiastes 3:14) and the manifold intimations of his will.

2. Trusting in him, firmly resting on his promises, and patiently waiting their fulfilment. Oftentimes "our strength is to sit still."

3. Using with diligence the strength he gives, still depending on him "who worketh all in all" (1 Corinthians 12:6; Philippians 2:13; Isaiah 26:12).


1. Conscious approbation of God.

2. Effectual aid.

3. Certain achievement. "In due season we shall reap if we faint not." - D.

From this summary observe that -

I. THE PEOPLE OF GOD ARE BESET BY NUMEROUS ADVERSARIES. Moab, Ammon, etc. - "on every side," of varied character, imbued with the same enmity, and threatening their existence. Conflict is necessary to self-preservation.

II. THE CHASTISEMENT OF THE WICKED IS INFLICTED BY SUITABLE AGENTS, "And Saul took the kingdom," etc. "Whithersoever he turned himself he chastised them. For this work he was well qualified by warlike courage and skill, indomitable energy and zeal, and in it he met with success. God often employs men to carry out his purposes who possess little of the spirit of obedience.

III. DIVERSITY OF CHARACTER IS OFTEN MANIFESTED IN THE SAME CIRCUMSTANCES. "Now the sons of Saul were Jonathan, and Ishui (Abinadab), and Melchishua." The fourth, Esh-baal (Ishbosheth), is not here mentioned. "And the names of his two daughters were Merab and Michal," etc. (vers. 49-51). What a contrast of character is presented in this family - e.g. between Jonathan and his father and sister (Michal). Hidden hereditary influences and special associations may have contributed to the difference, but much more the voluntary use or abuse of preliminary conditions, outward circumstances, and spiritual gifts.

IV. THE MISUSE OF POWER IS the RUIN OF ITS POSSESSOR. "He gathered a host" (ver. 48), or acquired power. He formed a standing army, as it had been predicted (1 Samuel 8:11, 16; 1 Samuel 22:7). He employed his power for his own aggrandisement. "If he could have done as he wished, there would have been an end to the supremacy of God in Israel. Rude despotism would have usurped its place" (Hengstenberg). Samuel's antagonistic working preserved the principle of the theocracy, and Saul's kingdom departed from him (Daniel 4:31).

V. THE PERVERSITY OF MEN INVOLVES THEM IN SORE DISTRESS. "There was sore war," etc. (ver. 52). "Very different had been the state of things when Samuel ruled Israel (1 Samuel 7:13). And the people who looked for protection to an arm of flesh rather than to God, who was their King, were punished by that instrument - Saul - which they had chosen for themselves in order that they might be saved by it" (Wordsworth's 'Com.').

VI. THE KINGDOM OF GOD MUST PREVAIL OVER ALL OPPOSITION, whether from open adversaries or disloyal adherents. That which seems to hinder it is often made a means of its furtherance. The Divine purpose concerning it cannot be defeated. It endured, wrought, and was developed amidst all the vicissitudes of Israel's history until the advent of "the King Messiah," and it is still advancing toward its perfect and eternal consummation (1 Corinthians 15:24, 25). - D.

When a locomotive engine slips off the rails, it would do little harm if it could stop at once; but its momentum carries it forward. It ploughs up the way, it dashes over an embankment, and drags ever so many carriages and passengers to destruction. So is it with the deflection of a man of force and influence from the right course. If he would stop at once, or if he should soon die, the mischief might be small. But the momentum of his character and position drives him on; he goes further and further from the straight lines of righteousness, and in the end not only hurls himself on ruin, but pulls many after him to their hurt. It was so with king Saul. He sinned, and the prophet Samuel intimated to him the Lord's displeasure. Had the king stopped there, no great damage might have been done; but he could not stop. The vehemence of his nature, and what seemed to be the necessities of his position, drove him on. He became more and more arbitrary. So we see him in this chapter of the history issuing the most unreasonable restrictions and commands, lenient when he should have been strict, and severe when he should have been lenient. By his rashness he very nearly turned to mourning the signal triumph over the Philistines which crowned the faith and valour of Prince Jonathan, and from that day he fell even below his own subjects in his perception of right and wrong, forfeited their respect, and became more and more wayward and unreasonable. Yet he had successes - great successes as a warrior. His martial temper and skill did not leave him, and all the surrounding nations felt his heavy hand. Not content with defending the territory, Saul organised and disciplined the army of Israel, so as to be able to use it in aggressive war, and smite the nations which had at various periods oppressed his country. Whithersoever he turned himself he was victorious. And yet Saul did not conduct those wars or win those victories in a manner worthy of a servant of Jehovah. There is no trace of his having command or counsel from God. There is no reference to the fulness of Divine promise regarding the land such as one sees in the thoughts of David when he enlarged the territory of Israel till they possessed all that the Lord had assigned to the posterity of Abraham. Saul struck right and left as the mood seized him, and "whithersoever he turned himself" he conquered. This is worth noting. A man may have many successes in life; nay, may have them in the Church, and in vindication of sacred truth, yet not have them as a Christian ought, and so not please God. Especially may this be the case in ecclesiastical and theological controversy. One may be quite on the right side, and may strike heavy blows at errorists and heretics all round, just as he "turns himself," and yet have no communion with the God of truth whom he seems to sense, obey motives unworthy of a servant of Christ, and indulge a harsh and wilful temper such as God cannot approve. Restlessness indicates an undisciplined, unhallowed energy. Restfulness belongs to those who submit all their plans to God, and lay all their energies at his feet. No men are so deaf to expostulation and so hard of recovery as those who try to keep an accusing conscience quiet by ceaseless activity. They turn hither and smite, thither and smite again. Perhaps they attack what deserves to be smitten; but it is a bad sign of themselves that they are never still before the Lord, letting his word search them. Under ever so much noise of debate and controversy, what hollowness may lurk, what degeneracy! Alas, it is so easy to go wrong, and having gone wrong once, easier to do it again. And then it is so hard to accept blame before God or man, and to submit to correction. Why not brandish our swords, and show ourselves brave Christian soldiers? Will not this compensate for our faults? O foolish Saul! O more foolish followers of the restless, haughty king! Lord, keep us back from all presumptuous sin! - F.

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