1 Samuel 14
Matthew Poole's 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.
Jonathan and his armour-bearer secretly smite the Philistines’ army; they slay one another, 1 Samuel 14:1-15; which being perceived, 1 Samuel 14:16,17, Saul pursueth the Philistines, the captivated and hidden Israelites join in the pursuit, 1 Samuel 14:18-23. Saul adjureth the people not to eat any thing till evening. Jonathan eateth honey: the Philistines are smitten, 1 Samuel 14:24-31. The people eat flesh with the blood: Saul restraineth them, and buildeth an altar, 1 Samuel 14:32-35. Design to pursue the Philistines by night, he consults God, who answers not: he casts a lot to find out the cause: Jonathan is taken: Saul dooms him to die: the people rescue him, 1 Samuel 14:36-45. Saul’s wars, sons, daughters, wife, 1 Samuel 14:46-52.

This was a rash and foolish attempt, if it be examined by common rules; but not so, if we consider the singular promises made to the Israelites, that one should chase a thousand, &c., and especially the heroical and extraordinary motions which were then frequently put into the minds of gallant men by God’s Spirit, whereby they undertook and accomplished noble and wonderful things; as did Samson, and David, and his worthies.

On the other side; beyond that rocky passage described below, 1 Samuel 14:4,13, which he pointed at with his hand.

He told not his father, lest he should hinder him in so improbable an enterprise. Nor was it necessary he should inform him of it, because he had a commission from his father to fight when he saw occasion, as he had done without his father’s privity, 1 Samuel 13:3.

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;
In the uttermost part of Gibeah; in the outworks of the city, where he had intrenched himself to observe the motion of the Philistines.

In Migron, or towards (as the Hebrew beth is oft used) Migron, which was another place, but near Gibeah. See Isaiah 10:28.

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.
Ahiah; the same who is called Ahimelech, 1 Samuel 22:9,11,20, the high priest, who was here to attend upon the ark, which was brought hither, 1 Samuel 14:18.

An ephod, to wit, the high priest’s ephod, wherein the Urim and Thummim was.

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.
The passages; so these might be two known and common passages, both which Jonathan must cross, or pass over, to go to the Philistines, between which the following rocks lay. But the words may be rendered thus, In the middle (for so the Hebrew particle ben signifies, as Isaiah 44:4; and beth, in, is understood by a very frequent ellipsis) of the passage; the plural number being put for the singular, as is frequent. A sharp rock on the one side, and on the other side; which is not so to be understood, as if in this passage one rock was on the right hand, and the other on the left; for so he should have gone between both; and there was no need of climbing up to them, which is mentioned below, 1 Samuel 14:13. But the meaning is, that the tooth (or prominency) of the one rock (as it is in the Hebrew) was on the one side, i.e. northward, looking towards Michmash, (the garrison of the Philistines,) and the tooth of the other rock was on the other side, i.e. southward, looking towards Gibeah, (where Saul’s camp lay,) as the next verse informs us; and Jonathan was forced to climb over these two rocks, because the other and common ways from one town to the other might now be obstructed, or were not so fit for his present design.

The forefront of the one was situate northward over against Michmash, and the other southward over against Gibeah.
No text from Poole on this verse.

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.
These uncircumcised; so he calls them, partly in contempt, and principally to strengthen his faith by this consideration, that his enemies were enemies to God, and without any hope in God, or help from him; 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 found and 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.

The Lord will work, to wit, great and wonderful things.

There is no restraint to the Lord; there is no person nor thing which can hinder God from thus doing.

And his armourbearer said unto him, Do all that is in thine heart: turn thee; behold, I am with thee according to thy heart.
Turn thee; march on to the enemies.

Then said Jonathan, Behold, we will pass over unto these men, and we will discover ourselves unto them.
No text from Poole on this verse.

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.
No text from Poole on this verse.

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.
Jonathan not being assured of the success of this present exploit, desires a sign; and by the instinct of God’s Spirit, as the success shows, pitched upon this. Divers such heroical motions and extraordinary impulses there were among great and good men in ancient times; as Genesis 24:13 Judges 6:37; which are not precedents to us.

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.
Therefore Jonathan chose that rocky and unusual way, that the Philistines might suppose they did not come from Saul’s camp to fight with them, but rather out of the caves and holes of the rocks, from which their necessity had now driven them.

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.
We will show you a thing; we having something of importance to communicate to you. A speech of contempt and derision.

The Lord hath delivered them; he piously and modestly ascribes the success which he now foresees to God only.

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.
The Philistines could easily have hindered their ascent, but thought scorn to do it, not questioning but they could cut them off in a moment when they were come up to them according to their invitation.

Jonathan and his armourbearer being endowed with extraordinary strength and courage, and having with incredible boldness killed the first they met with, and so proceeding with success, it is not strange if the Philistines were both astonished and intimidated; God also struck them with a panic terror; 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 amongst themselves, and therefore caused them to sheath their swords in one another’s bowels, as appears from 1 Samuel 14:16,20.

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.
No text from Poole on this verse.

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.
Trembling; a great consternation; partly from this unexpected and prodigious slaughter, which made them suspect there was more than man in the case, and that the Lord (of whose infinite power they had had former experience) was come forth to fight against them; and partly from the Lord, who took away their spirits and strength, and struck them with fear and amazement.

In the field, i.e. in the whole host, which as there in the field.

Among all the people, i.e. among all the rest of their forces, as well those in the garrison (as it is here explained in the following words) at Michmash, as 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 earth quaked; either,

1. Metaphorically and hyperbolically, the whole land, i.e. the inhabitants of the land, to wit, of the Philistines, trembled. Or rather,

2. Properly, God sent an earthquake among them, which probably overthrew their tents and chariots, and destroyed many of their persons, and scattered the whole host, making them to flee away for their lives.

And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked; and, behold, the multitude melted away, and they went on beating down one another.
In Gibeah, or, in the hill, as the very same word is rendered, 1 Samuel 13:16, and that was the fittest place for watchmen.

The multitude, to wit, of that numerous host of the Philistines.

Melted away, i.e. were strangely and suddenly dispersed, and put to flight.

Beating down one another; either,

1. Accidentally, through hasty flight; or,

2. With design to destroy one another, as the authors or abettors of the present calamity. Possibly God blinded their eyes or their minds, that they could not distinguish friends from foes. Compare Judges 7:22 2 Kings 6:18, &c.; 2 Chronicles 20:23.

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.
Saul probably supposed that not only Jonathan, but also some considerable number of his army, was gone, and that by them that slaughter was made.

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.
That the priest may put on the ephod, and may inquire of the Lord before the ark what the occasion of this tumult among our enemies is, and what we shall do.

With the children of Israel, to wit, in the camp, whither sometimes it was brought; as 1 Samuel 4:5; and now the rather, partly because it was now in an unsettled condition, and without the tabernacle, and therefore easily removed from place to place; and partly because Saul thought to compensate Samuel’s absence with the presence of the ark.

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.
Trouble not thyself in putting on the breastplate, with the ephod, to inquire of God; for I now plainly discern the matter; the business calls not for prayer, but for action. But if it did so, there was the more need of God’s direction and blessing, that they might act with more success. Herein therefore he shows his impatience in waiting upon God; his hypocrisy, in pretending to religion; and yet his profaneness, in neglecting and despising it.

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.
The Philistines slew one another; which might come, either from mistake, of which see on 1 Samuel 14:16; or from mutual jealousies and passions, to which God could easily dispose them.

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.
Which went up with them into the camp; either by constraint, as servants; or in policy, to gain their favour and protection.

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.
No text from Poole on this verse.

So the LORD saved Israel that day: and the battle passed over unto Bethaven.
The battle, i.e. the warriors who were engaged in the battle, and were pursuing and fighting with 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.
Were distressed, with hunger, and weakness, and faintness, thence arising; and all by reason of the following oath. As Saul’s intention was good, namely, to execute vengeance upon God’s and his enemies; so the matter of the obligation was not simply and in itself unlawful, if it had not been so rigorous in excluding all food, without any exception of cases of necessity; and in obliging the people to it under pain of a curse, and an accursed death, 1 Samuel 14:38,39,44, which was a punishment far exceeding the fault. None of the people tasted any food; partly in obedience to the king’s command; and partly for fear of the curse.

And all they of the land came to a wood; and there was honey upon the ground.
All they of the land, Heb. all the land, i.e. the people of the land; as it is explained below, 1 Samuel 14:29; and so the word is taken Genesis 41:57. All the Israelites who were with Saul.

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.
The honey dropped. It hath been observed by many travellers and writers, that bees do ofttimes settle themselves, and make their hives and honey, in the trunks of trees, or clefts of rocks, or holes of the earth; and this in divers countries, but eminently in this of Canaan; as may be gathered from Deu 32:13 Psalm 81:16; whence it was called a land flowing with milk and 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.
Jonathan heard not, being then absent, and in pursuit of the Philistines, divers of the Israelites having joined themselves with him, 1 Samuel 14:21.

His eyes were enlightened; he was refreshed, and recovered his lost spirits, whereof part went into his optic nerves, and so cleared his sight, which was much darkened by famine, as is usual.

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.
One of the people, who came along with Saul, whose forces were now united with Jonathan’s.

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.
The land, i.e. the people of the land, the whole army, whom by this rash oath he hath greatly injured. The zeal of defending himself makes him run into the other extreme of accusing his father, and that before the people, whom by this means he might have stirred up to a sedition.

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?
No text from Poole on this verse.

And they smote the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon: and the people were very faint.
Aijalon; either that in Dan, Joshua 19:42; or rather, that in Judah, 2 Chronicles 11:10.

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.
The people flew upon the spoil, to wit, at evening, when the time prefixed by Saul was expired.

With the blood; not having patience to tarry till the blood was perfectly gone out of them, as they should have done. See Genesis 9:4 Leviticus 17:14 Deu 12:16. So they who seemed to make conscience of the king’s commandment for fear of the curse, make 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.
He sees their fault, but not his own, in giving the occasion to it.

Roll a great stone unto me; that the cattle might be all killed in one place, under the inspection of Saul, or some other appointed by him for that work; and upon the stone, that the blood may sooner and better flow out.

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 his sheep, which is to be understood out of the foregoing words.

And Saul built an altar unto the LORD: the same was the first altar that he built unto the LORD.
Either for a monument of the victory; or rather, for sacrifice, as the next words imply.

The same was the first altar, though he had occasion to do so oft ere this time. So this is quoted as another evidence of his neglect of God and his worship. It is true, Saul sacrificed before this, as at Gilgal; but that was upon an old altar, erected by others.

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.
Remembering Saul’s contempt of God’s ordinance the last time, and the in consequence of it; and perceiving Saul ready to run into the same error again, even though he had not now the same pretence of the necessity of haste as before, and that the people were forward to comply with the motion; he gives them this pious and prudent advice.

Hither unto God, to wit, to the ark, as above, 1 Samuel 14:18.

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.

1. Because he was displeased with Saul for his former neglect, 1 Samuel 14:18,19, where he began to ask advice of God, but was so rude and impious as not to tarry for an answer; and therefore it was but a just retaliation, if when Saul did ask, God would not vouchsafe him an answer. Or,

2. To manifest his dislike of the violation of oaths. For although Jonathan might have a fair excuse from his invincible ignorance and urgent necessity; and though Saul had done foolishly in making this oath (which also God would this way discover); yet when once it was made, God would hereby teach them that it should be observed, and that they should abstain even from all appearance of the breach of it.

And Saul said, Draw ye near hither, all the chief of the people: and know and see wherein this sin hath been this day.
All the chief of the people; in the name of all the people, that you may be witnesses, and may see where the fault lies.

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.
None of those who either saw Jonathan eating, or heard of it, informed against him; partly because they were satisfied that his ignorance excused him, and that there was some other reason of God’s not answering; and partly 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.
No text from Poole on this verse.

Therefore Saul said unto the LORD God of Israel, Give a perfect lot. And Saul and Jonathan were taken: but the people escaped.
Give a perfect lot, or declare (for giving is oft put for declaring or pronouncing, as Deu 11:29 13:1,2 Pr 9:9) the perfect or guiltless person; i.e. O Lord, so guide the lot, that it may discover who is guilty in this matter, and that it may clear the innocent.

The people escaped, to wit, the danger; they were pronounced guiltless.

And Saul said, Cast lots between me and Jonathan my son. And 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; (for he designed so to rule the hearts of the people, and of Saul also, that Jonathan should not die;) but because he would have the whole matter brought to light; partly, that Saul’s folly might be chastised, when he saw what danger it had brought upon his eldest and excellent son; partly, that Jonathan’s innocency might he cleared; and partly, to stablish the authority of kings and rulers, and the obedience which subjects owe to all their lawful commands.

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.
I am sentenced to death for it; which is hard measure. He had another answer, that he knew not of his father’s command; but that being said before, 1 Samuel 14:27, it was needless here to repeat it.

And Saul answered, God do so and more also: for thou shalt surely die, Jonathan.
From this and other like expressions of Saul’s, some gather that he was exceeding prone to the vice of swearing and cursing.

Thou shalt surely die: strange perverseness! He who was so indulgent as to spare wicked Agag, 1Sa 15, is now so severe as to destroy his own worthy son: he that could easily dispense with God’s righteous and reasonable command, will not bear the violation of his own rash and foolish command; because his own authority and power is concerned in this, and only God’s in the other.

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.
With God, i.e. in concurrence with God, or by God’s help he had wrought this salvation. God is so far from being offended with Jonathan, as thou apprehendest, that he hath graciously owned and assisted him in the great service of this day.

Then Saul went up from following the Philistines: and the Philistines went to their own place.
Saul went up from following the Philistines; partly because he was discouraged by God’s refusing to answer him; and partly because his delays had given them occasion to secure themselves.

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.
Took the kingdom, i.e. recovered it, and resumed the administration of it, after he had in a manner lost it, partly by Samuel’s sentence, 1 Samuel 13:14, and partly by the Philistines, who had almost turned him out of it. But now, being encouraged by this success, he returns to the exercise of his kingly office.

Zobah lay not far from Damascus. See 2 Samuel 8:5.

He vexed them, Heb. he condemned them, he treated them like wicked people, and enemies to God and his people; or, he punished them.

And he gathered an host, and smote the Amalekites, and delivered Israel out of the hands of them that spoiled them.
Smote the Amalekites; which is here mentioned only in the general, but is particularly described in the next chapter.

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:
Ishui, called also Abinadab, 1 Samuel 31:2 1 Chronicles 8:33. Ishbosheth, Saul’s other son, is here omitted, because he intended to mention only those of his sons who went with him into the battles here mentioned, and who were afterwards 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.
No text from Poole on this verse.

And Kish was the father of Saul; and Ner the father of Abner was the son of Abiel.
No text from Poole on this verse.

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.
Into his service, or army.

Matthew Poole's Commentary

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