1 Samuel 14
Pulpit 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.
Verse 1. - Now it came to pass upon a day. Literally, "And there was a day, and Jonathan," etc.; or, as we should say, And it happened one day that Jonathan. The phrase means that Jonathan's brave feat took place not many days after the garrison had occupied the cliff, probably only two or three, but without definitely stating how many. He told not his father. Not only because Saul would have forbidden so rash an enterprise, but because secrecy was essential to any chance of success: probably too the purpose came upon him as an inspiration from above.
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;
Verse 2. - Saul tarried in the uttermost part of Gibeah. I.e. the part nearest Geba. Under, not a, but the pomegranate tree, the well known tree at Migron. Saul evidently shared to the full in the love of trees common among the Israelites (see 1 Samuel 22:6). The Hebrew word for pomegranate is Rimmon, but there is no doubt that the tree is here meant, and not the rock Rimmon (Judges 20:45, 47), so called probably from a fancied resemblance to the fruit. Migron, said to mean a cliff was apparently a common name for localities in this mountainous district, as in Isaiah 10:28 we read of one lying to the north of Michmash, whereas this is to the south.
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.
Verse 3. - Ahiah, the son of Ahitub. (See on 1 Samuel 13:9.) It is interesting to find the house of Eli recovering at last from its disaster, and one of its members duly ministering in his office before the king. It has been debated whether he was the same person as Ahimelech, mentioned in 1 Samuel 21:1, etc., the supposition being grounded on the fact that Ahiah is never spoken of again. But he may have died; and with regard to the argument drawn from the similarity of the names, we must notice that names compounded with Ah (or Ach), brother, were common in Eli's family, while compounds with Ab, father, were most in use among Saul's relatives. Ahiah or Ahijah means Jah is brother; his father is Ahitub, the brother is good; why should he not call another son Ahimelech, the brother is king? Jehovah's priest in Shiloh. This refers to Eli, the regular rule in Hebrew being that all such statements belong, not to the son, but to the father. Wearing an ephod. Literally, ephod bearing. The ephod, as we have seen on 1 Samuel 2:18, was the usual ministerial garment; but what is meant here is not an ordinary ephod of linen, but that described in Leviticus 8:7, 8, wherein was the breastplate, by which Jehovah's will was made known to his people, until prophecy took its place. All this, the former part of the verse, must be regarded as a parenthesis.
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.
Verse 4. - Between the passages. I.e. the passes. A sharp rock. Literally, "a tooth of rock." Conder ('Tent Work,' 2:112) says, "The site of the Philistine camp at Michmash, which Jonathan and his armour bearer attacked, is very minutely described by Josephus. It was, he says, a precipice with three tops, ending in a long, sharp tongue, and protected by surrounding cliffs. Exactly such a natural fortress exists immediately east of the village of Michmash, and is still called 'the fort' by the peasantry. It is a ridge rising in three rounded knolls above a perpendicular crag, ending in a narrow tongue to the east, with cliffs below, and having an open valley behind it, and a saddle towards the west, on which Michmash itself is situate. Opposite this fortress, on the south, there is a crag of equal height, and seemingly impassable. Thus the description of the Old Testament is fully borne out - 'a sharp rock on one side, and a sharp rock on the other.' The southern cliff was called Seneh, or 'the acacia,' and the same name still applies to the modern valley, due to the acacia trees which dot its course. The northern cliff was called Bozez, or 'shining,' and the true explanation of the name only presents itself on the spot." Conder then describes how, "treading perhaps almost in the steps of Jonathan, after arriving on the brink of the chasm, or defile of Michmash, they were able to descend Seneh, even with horses and mules. "I noticed," he says, "that the dip of the strata down eastward gave hopes that by one of the long ledges we might be able to slide, as it were, towards the bottom. It is not likely that horses had ever before been led along this ledge, or will perhaps ever again cross the pathless chasm, but it was just possible, and by jumping them down one or two steps some three feet high, we succeeded in making the passage.... Though we got down Seneh, we did not attempt to climb up Bozez .... Horses could scarcely find a footing anywhere on the sides of the northern precipice; but judging from the descent, it seems possible that Jonathan, with immense labour, could have 'climbed up upon his hands and upon his feet, and his armour bearer after him' (ver. 13). That a man exhausted by such an effort could have fought successfully on arriving at the top can only be accounted for on the supposition of a sudden panic among the Philistines, when they found the enemy actually within their apparently impregnable fortress."
The forefront of the one was situate northward over against Michmash, and the other southward over against Gibeah.
Verse 5. - Was situate, etc. The word thus translated is that rendered pillar in 1 Samuel 2:8, and the verse should possibly be translated, "And the one tooth (or crag) was a rocky mass on the north over against Michmash, and the other was on the south over against Geba" (not Gibeah, as the A.V.; see 1 Samuel 13:16). But the word is omitted in the versions, and may be an interpolation.
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.
Verse 6. - Uncircumcised. An epithet of dislike almost confined to the Philistines. But underneath the whole speech of Jonathan lies the conviction of the covenant relation of Israel to Jehovah, of which circumcision was the outward sign. Notice also Jonathan's humble reliance upon God. It may be that Jehovah will work for us, etc.
And his armourbearer said unto him, Do all that is in thine heart: turn thee; behold, I am with thee according to thy heart.
Verse 7. - Turn thee. The Hebrew seems to have preserved the very words of the young man, and the difficulty in rendering this phrase arises from its being a colloquial expression. "Face about" would be our phrase; but the sense is, "On with you; I will follow."
Then said Jonathan, Behold, we will pass over unto these men, and we will discover ourselves unto them.
If they say thus unto us, Tarry until we come to you; then we will stand still in our place, and will not go up unto them.
Verse 9. - Tarry. Hebrew, "be still," "stand still," the word used by Joshua of the sun (Joshua 10:12, 13); but not the word rendered stand still just below, where the Hebrew has, "We will stand under us," i.e. we will stop just where we were.
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.
Verse 10. - A sign. The waiting of the garrison for Jonathan and his armour bearer to mount up to them would be a sign of great indifference and supineness on their part; but what he rather meant was that they were to regard it as an omen. Kim'hi has a long digression in his commentary on this place to show that there was nothing superstitous in their looking for a prognostic to encourage them in their hazardous undertaking. God, he says, bade Gideon go to the camp of the Midianites to obtain such a sign. as Jonathan looked for here (see Judges 7:11).
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.
Verse 11. - Both of them discovered themselves. They had crept up the precipice unseen, but at some convenient spot near the top they so placed themselves that the garrison must see them, and waited there till their presence was observed. Behold, the Hebrews. There is no article in the Hebrew. What the Philistines say is, See! Hebrews come out of the holes wherein they had hid themselves.
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.
Verse 12. - Come up to us, and we will show you a thing. The Philistines thus give Jonathan the very omen he had desired. The last clause is a popular phrase, and expresses a sort of amused contempt for the two adventurers. Raillery of this sort is not at all uncommon between the outposts of two armies.
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.
Verse 13. - Upon his hands and upon his feet. Of course a single stone rolled down upon them while thus clambering up the precipitous side of the cliff would have sent them to the bottom; but the Philistines, apparently considering the ascent impossible, seem entirely to have neglected them. The youthful appearance of the two no doubt contributed to throw them off their guard. And they fell before Jonathan. The brevity of the Hebrew very well expresses the rapidity of Jonathan's action. Used to mountaineering, he was ready, as soon as he had reached the summit, to commence the attack, and the Philistines, little expecting so vigorous an onslaught from so feeble a force, were surprised, and made but a slight resistance. The armour bearer also behaved with a bravery like his master's.
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.
Verse 14. - Within as it were an half acre of land, which a yoke of oxen might plow. The Hebrew for this long circumlocution is, "within about a half furrow of a yoke of land." The Septuagint translates, "with darts and slings and stones of the field," but the other versions give no support to this rendering. The Israelites, like most ancient nations, were accustomed to measure land by the quantity which a yoke of oxen could plough in a day, - something really less than an acre, - so that the A.V. gives the fight sense. When Jonathan made his attack, the garrison probably, not knowing bow few their assailants were, ran in confusion to the narrow tongue of land where the exit was, and getting in one another's way, were soon panic stricken and helpless.
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.
Verse 15. - Trembling. I.e. "terror," "fright." In the host. Hebrew, "in the camp," i.e. the main camp at Michmash, contrasted with the field, i.e. the open country, in which the soldiers were foraging for supplies. The people. I.e. the camp followers, as opposed to the soldiers. All these were terrified by the garrison rushing down the pass, with tidings of the attack magnified by their fears, and who communicated the alarm to the spoilers, who, having now for a fortnight met with no resistance, had probably discontinued all measures of precaution. The earth quaked. This may be taken literally, but is more probably a poetical description of the widespread terror and confusion which prevailed far and near. So it was a very great trembling. Literally, "and it became a terror of God;" but the name of the deity (Elohim, not Jehovah) is constantly used in Hebrew to express vastness. DEFEAT OF THE PHILISTINES (vers. 16-23).
And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked; and, behold, the multitude melted away, and they went on beating down one another.
Verse 16. - The watchmen, etc. Condor says ('Tent Work,' 2:115), "The watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin must have seen dearly across the chasm the extraordinary conflict of two men against a host, as the 'multitude melted away, and they went on beating down one another.' The noise in the host was also, no doubt, clearly heard at the distance of only two miles, and the army would have crossed the passage with comparatively little difficulty by the narrow path which leads down direct from Geba to Michmash, west of the Philistine camp. Thence the pursuit was towards Bethel, across the watershed, and headlong down the steep descent of Aijalon - that same pass where the first great victory of Joshua had been gained, and where the valiant Judas was once more, in later times, to drive back the enemies of Israel to the plains." The multitude. The Hebrew is, "And behold the tumult (the word is so rendered in ver. 19, margin) was reeling and going... and thither." Of course hither has dropped out of the text before and thither (comp. 1 Samuel 13:8). The Septuagint and Vulgate both read "hither and thither." Tumult means the din made by a confused mass of people, and so the crowd itself. Melted away does not give the exact meaning. The Philistines were not dispersing, but were reeling, moving to and fro purposeless, and in confusion. It may mean, however, to shake or melt with terror, as in Isaiah 14:31, where it is rendered art dissolved.
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.
Verses 17, 18. - Number now. On hearing from the watchmen that fighting was seen on the other side of the ravine, Saul commands the roll to be called, that he may learn who has made the attack, and finds only his son and the armour bearer missing. Uncertain what their absence might mean, he said unto Ahiah, Bring hither the ark of God. The Syriac, Vulgate, and Chaldee support this reading, but the Septuagint has ephod, and there can be no doubt that this is the right reading; for the verb rendered. Bring hither is never used of the ark, but only of the ephod; nor was the ark used for making inquiry of God, but the ephod with the breastplate inserted in it. The rest of the verse is a gloss added by some scribe struck at this strange mention of the ark, which we know was still at Kirjath-jearim. It is itself corrupt and ungrammatical, being, "For the ark of God was in that day and the children of Israel." Still both the reading ark and the gloss are very ancient, being found in the versions, except the Septuagint, as above.
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.
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.
Verse 19. - Withdraw thine hand. Saul, impatient of delay, cannot wait till the will of God is made known to him. There would have been no real loss of time, and he might have been saved from the errors which marred the happiness of the deliverance. But this precipitancy very well shows the state of Saul's mind.
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.
Verse 20. - Saul and all the people... assembled themselves. Margin, were cried together, i.e. summoned by trumpet note. The Syriac and Vulgate, however, make the verb active, and translate, "And Saul and all the people with him shouted and advanced to the battle." Discomfiture. Rather, "dismay," "consternation," as in 1 Samuel 5:9.
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.
Verses 21, 22. - Round about, even. All the versions by a very slight alteration change this into turned, which the A.V. is forced to supply. With this necessary correction the translation is easy: "And the Hebrews who were previously with the Philistines, and had gone up with them into the camp, turned to be with the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan." It appears, therefore, that certain districts of the Israelite territory were so completely in the power of the Philistines that they could compel the men to go with them, not perhaps as soldiers, as is our custom in India, but as drivers and servants. These now turned upon their masters, and were reinforced by the Israelites who had taken refuge in Mount Ephraim. It is noteworthy that these subject "Hebrews" retain the name of contempt given them by their masters.
Likewise all the men of Israel which had hid themselves in mount Ephraim, when they heard that the Philistines fled, even they also followed hard after them in the battle.
So the LORD saved Israel that day: and the battle passed over unto Bethaven.
Verse 23. - Over unto Beth-aven. Hebrew, "the battle passed Beth-aven," i.e. no rally was made there. In ver. 31 we read that the pursuit continued as far as Aijalon. For Beth-aven see on 1 Samuel 13:5. SAUL'S RASH COMMAND (vers. 24-35).
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.
Verse 24. - The men of Israel were distressed that day. The word is that used in 1 Samuel 13:6 of the state of terror and alarm to which the Israelites were reduced by the Philistine invasion; here it refers to their weariness and faintness for want of food. For Saul had adjured the people. Hebrew, "had made the people swear." He had recited before them the words of the curse, and made them shout their consent. His object was to prevent any delay in the pursuit; but in his eagerness he forgot that the strength of his men would fail if their bodily wants were not supplied. But though worn out and fainting, the people faithfully keep the oath put to them.
And all they of the land came to a wood; and there was honey upon the ground.
Verse 25. - And all they of the land. Hebrew, "the whole land," or, as we should say, the whole country, which had risen to join in the pursuit. Honey upon the ground. The wild bees in Palestine fill fissures in the rocks (Deuteronomy 32:13; Psalm 81:16) and hollow trees with honey, till the combs, breaking with the weight, let it run down upon the ground. A similar abundance of honey was found by the early settlers in America.
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.
Verse 26. - The honey dropped. More correctly, "Behold, a stream (or a flowing) 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.
Verse 27. - Jonathan, who had not been present when his father charged the people with the oath, - literally, "made the people swear," - dipped the end of his staff hastily, so as not to hinder the pursuit, in an honeycomb - Hebrew, "into the honey wood," i.e. into the hollow branch or trunk out of which the honey was flowing (but see Song of Solomon 5:1). His eyes were enlightened. I.e. made bright and clear, the dimness caused by excessive weariness having passed away. But this is a correction made by the Jews (kri), and the written text (c'tib) has "his eyes saw," which is more forcible and poetic. When the A.V. was made the kri was supposed to be authoritative, but most modern commentators have come to the opposite conclusion.
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.
Verse 28. - And the people were faint. There is great diversity of opinion whether this be part or not of the speech of the man who informed Jonathan of the oath forced on the people by Saul. It makes, perhaps, the better sense if regarded as the continuation of the history, and inserted to justify Jonathan's disapproval of his father's hasty command. The fight rendering is were weary, as in the margin and Judges 4:21.
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.
Verse 29. - My father hath troubled the land. I.e. hath brought disaster upon it (see Genesis 34:30; Joshua 7:25). This disaster was the incompleteness of the victory, owing to the people being too exhausted to continue the pursuit.
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?
Verses 30, 31. - For had there not been now a much greater slaughter? This clause is really an indicative: "For now the slaughter of the Philistines is not very great." Nevertheless, the pursuit was continued as far as the pass of Aijalon, and though, owing to the increasing weariness of the people, but few of the Philistines were overtaken, nevertheless it would compel them to throw away their arms, and abandon all the booty which they had collected. For very faint the Hebrew has very weary, as in ver. 28.
And they smote the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon: and the people were very faint.
And the people flew upon the spoil, and took sheep, and oxen, and calves, and slew them on the ground: and the people did eat them with the blood.
Verse 32. - The people flew upon the spoil. The written text has, "And the people set to work upon the spoil, and took sheep," etc., but as the sentence is not very grammatical the kri has corrected it from 1 Samuel 15:19. The versions have either "greedily desired," or "turned themselves unto." The people who had waited until evening, when the oath forced upon them by Saul was over, then in their hunger broke the law doubly: first in killing calves with their dams on the same day (Leviticus 22:28), and secondly, more seriously, in so killing them "on the ground" that the blood remained in the carcase. The law enjoined the utmost care in this respect (ibid. 17:10-14), but the people were too weary and hungry to trouble about it.
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.
Verses 33, 34. - Ye have transgressed. Better as in the margin, "dealt treacherously," i.e. faithlessly, to the covenant between Israel and Jehovah. Roll a great stone unto me this day. Or, as we should say, this minute; but the Hebrew uses "this day" for anything to be done at once (see on ch. 2:16). The purpose of this stone was to raise up the caresses of the slaughtered animals from the ground, so that the blood might drain away from them. On tidings of this arrangement being dispersed throughout the army, the people obey Saul with the same unquestioning devotion as they had shown to his command to abstain from food.
And Saul said, Disperse yourselves among the people, and say unto them, Bring me hither every man his ox, and every man his sheep, and slay them here, and eat; and sin not against the LORD in eating with the blood. And all the people brought every man his ox with him that night, and slew them there.
And Saul built an altar unto the LORD: the same was the first altar that he built unto the LORD.
Verse 35. - And Saul built an altar unto Jehovah as a thank offering for the Divine favour in gaining so great a victory. The same was the first altar, etc. Literally, "As to it he began to build an altar unto Jehovah." On these words the question has arisen whether the meaning be that Saul began to build an altar, but with characteristic impetuosity left off before he had completed it; or whether on that occasion he commenced the custom followed by David (2 Samuel 24:25) of erecting altars as the patriarchs had done in old time. The latter interpretation is more in accordance with the usage of the Hebrew language, and is approved by the translations of the Septuagint and Vulgate.

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.
Verse 36. - Let us go down after the Philistines by night. Saul, conscious that he had prevented the victory from being so decisive as it would otherwise have been, proposes to repair his fault, now that the people have taken food, by continuing the pursuit during the night. The people render the same unquestioning obedience as before, but Ahiah gives counsel that they should first ask the approval of God. Let us draw near hither. I.e. to the altar which Saul had just set up. Ahiah may have done this because he disapproved of Saul's project, or because generally God ought to be consulted before undertaking anything of importance. Already the neglect of this had led to no good results (see ver. 19).
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.
Verses 37, 38. - He answered him not. From this silence Saul concludes that some sin has been committed, and therefore calls together all the chief of the people - literally, "the corner stones" (Judges 20:2) - to inquire who was the guilty person, and wherein he had sinned.
And Saul said, Draw ye near hither, all the chief of the people: and know and see wherein this sin hath been this day.
For, as the LORD liveth, which saveth Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die. But there was not a man among all the people that answered him.
Verse 39. - He shall surely die. With despotic violence, without waiting to learn what the offence was, and judging simply by consequences, because he was delayed in following up the pursuit, he takes a solemn oath that the offending person shall be put to death. Thus twice in the same day he was guilty of the sin of rash swearing. The people condemn him by their silence. They had obeyed him with ready devotion; but now they listen in terror to the rash and violent words which condemn to death the young hero by whom God had that day wrought deliverance for them.
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.
Verses 40, 41. - As God also condemned Saul by his silence, the Urim and Thummim giving no answer, he places himself and Jonathan on one side, and the people on the other, and determines to cast lots. He then prays, Give a perfect lot, or, as in the margin, "Show" (literally, give) "the innocent." This is undoubtedly the meaning of the Hebrew, while the rendering of the text is taken from Kimchi. There are few mistranslations of the A.V. which have not some good Jewish authority for them, as King James's translators were singularly well versed in Jewish literature, while they seem strangely to have neglected the still higher authority of the ancient versions. These generally translate "Give holiness," a phrase equivalent to "Show the truth." The Septuagint and Vulgate add explanations, which, however, throw no light upon the passage.
Therefore Saul said unto the LORD God of Israel, Give a perfect lot. And Saul and Jonathan were taken: but the people escaped.
And Saul said, Cast lots between me and Jonathan my son. And Jonathan was taken.
Then Saul said to Jonathan, Tell me what thou hast done. And Jonathan told him, and said, I did but taste a little honey with the end of the rod that was in mine hand, and, lo, I must die.
And Saul answered, God do so and more also: for thou shalt surely die, Jonathan.
Verse 44. - God do so, etc. Again Saul takes an oath to put Jonathan to death, supposing himself bound by his former words. But he must have been pained beyond measure at the miserable consequences of his rashness, and have bitterly reproached himself for thus twice marring the happiness of the day by unhallowed oaths. Jonathan's trespass, committed unwittingly, required nothing more than a trespass offering for its expiation, nor did the silence of the Urim and Thummim imply any fault in him. The fault lay in Saul having imposed an oath upon the army; that oath had been broken, and a formal expiation must be made. But Saul was by nature a despot, and could endure nothing that seemed even for the moment to stand in his way.
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.
Verse 45. - The people said. They had hitherto shown their disapproval of Saul's conduct by their silence; now they decide that Jonathan shall not die, and their decision was right and godly. Saul might feel bound by his rash oath, but the consciences of the people told them that an oath to commit a crime is an oath to be repented of as a sin, and not to be performed as a duty. They do not say, however, God forbid, but "Far be it." The name of the Deity is constantly taken in vain in the A.V. without adding either beauty or energy to the word of God. But even if it did, what right have translators to add energy to the word of God? He hath wrought with God this day. The argument of the people is wise and good. Jonathan's whole conduct on that day proved an especial presence of God with him. It would be morally wrong and an offence against religion to condemn that which God approved, and the people therefore set their oath against the king's oath, and prevail.
Then Saul went up from following the Philistines: and the Philistines went to their own place.
Verse 46. - Saul went up, etc. Thus, as the final result of his self-will, Saul had to discontinue his pursuit of the Philistines, and their power, though weakened by the overthrow, remained unbroken. SUMMARY OF SAUL'S WARS, AND ACCOUNT OF HIS FAMILY (vers. 47-52).
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.
Verse 47. - So Saul took the kingdom. Instead of so the Hebrew has and, rightly; for this is no result or consequence of Saul's victory over the Philistines, but a mere historical introduction to the summary of his wars. The more correct translation would be, "When Saul had taken the kingdom over Israel, he fought," etc. Saul's reign was valiant and full of military glory. He was, in fact, in war all that the people had longed for, and not only. did he gain independence for Israel.. but laid the foundation of the vast empire of David and Solomon. But it is not the purpose of Holy, Scripture to give us the history of all Saul s valiant exploits, but only of his moral probation and failure. Of wars we read more than enough in profane history; here we read of the formation of character, and how a hero in the midst of noble and worthy feats of arms may yet lose something nobler and worthier - the favour of God. On every side. Moab and Ammon were on the east, Edom on the south, Zobah on the northeast, and the Philistines on the west. Zobah lay beyond Damascus, and, from the accounts given in 2 Samuel 8:3-8; 2 Samuel 10:6, must have been a powerful state. He vexed them. The verb is a judicial one, used of punishing the guilty, and might be translated "he chastised them." The Syriac and Vulgate give the real sense - "he was victorious."
And he gathered an host, and smote the Amalekites, and delivered Israel out of the hands of them that spoiled them.
Verse 48. - He gathered a host. So the Syriac and Vulgate, but the margin is probably the true meaning, "He wrought mightily," or valiantly.
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:
Verse 49. - Saul's family and kindred. Three sons only of Saul are here mentioned, apparently those slain at the battle of Mount Gilboa, where, however, Ishui is named Abinadab (1 Samuel 31:2, as also in 1 Chronicles 8:33; 1 Chronicles 9:39). A fourth son, Esh-baal, subsequently called Ishbosheth, is omitted. The daughters, Merab and Michal, are mentioned because of the history in 1 Samuel 18:17-21.
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.
Verse 50. - Saul's wife was Ahinoam, the daughter of Ahimaaz. We have noticed on ver. 3 the fondness of the family of Eli for names beginning with Ah, "brother." It does not justify us in concluding that Ahinoam was a descendant of Eli, but she may possibly have been so. Abner, whose name is here given in its strictly proper form, Abiner, was Saul's first cousin, both Kish and Ner being sons of Abiel (comp. 1 Samuel 9:1).
And Kish was the father of Saul; and Ner the father of Abner was the son of Abiel.
Verse 51. - The son of Abiel. There can be little doubt that the right reading is sons, and not son. We thus get an intelligible statement - "And Kish the father of Saul and Ner the father of Abner, were sons of Abiel."
And there was sore war against the Philistines all the days of Saul: and when Saul saw any strong man, or any valiant man, he took him unto him.
Verse 52. - The summary ends with two important particulars respecting Saul's kingdom - the first, that the Philistines were powerful and dangerous enemies to Israel all his days; the second, that in order to carry on the war with them he ever kept around him the nucleus of a standing army. In thus forming a "school of heroes" he raised the whole spirit of the people, and took an essential and necessary step for maintaining Israel's freedom. With much of the despot in him, Saul had grand qualities as a soldier, and for many years admirably fulfilled the primary object for which he was chosen. And while he was thus giving the nation internal security, Samuel was teaching it how to use its growing prosperity, and was raising it in the scale of intellectual worth. If in the time of the judges we have Israel in its boyhood, as in the Sinaitic desert we have it in its infancy, under Saul and Samuel it reached its manhood, and became a powerful, vigorous, and well ordered community, able to maintain its freedom, and with means for its internal development in the schools of the prophets, which ended in making it not merely enlightened itself, but the giver of light to the rest of mankind.

Pulpit Commentary


1 Samuel 13
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