So, in chapter 13, which we studied last time, we read how Saul’s son, Jonathan, did what Saul was meant to do, and failed to do, which was to attack the Philistines. And do you remember? Saul was also meant to wait for Samuel to come to Gilgal to offer sacrifices to the Lord and to give Saul further instructions. But Saul became impatient and he decided not to wait any longer for Samuel. And so, when Samuel arrived, Samuel rebuked the king for not keeping the command of the Lord; and Samuel announced that Saul’s kingship will not endure and that someone else will replace him as king.
Well, today’s chapter tells us more about Jonathan; and we’re impressed by his faith, aren’t we? He trusts in the Lord to help him. And this chapter tells us more about Saul; and we can’t help but notice his foolishness. And perhaps some of the Israelites thought to themselves that Jonathan would make a better king than Saul. However, they had asked the Lord for a king like the other nations had; and that’s what he’s given them: a king who disregards God’s word and who therefore does not know what to do.
Verses 1 to 23
Chapter 14 begins with the words: ‘One day….’ So, one day this happened. However, this chapter is not telling us about any old day; it’s telling us about a specific day. It’s telling us about the day which is mentioned in verse 22 of chapter 13, where it says: ‘On the day of the battle….’ So, chapter 13 ended by referring to the day of the battle between the Philistines and the Israelites; and chapter 14 is telling us what happened on that day.
So, what happened on the day of the battle? Well, the action begins, not with Saul, but with his son, Jonathan, and with Jonathan’s armour-bearer. ‘Come on,’ Jonathan said, ‘let’s go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side.’ You see, he was at the top of a cliff and the Philistines outpost was at the top of another cliff; and there was a mountain pass between them. You’ll see that one of the cliffs was called Bo-zez and the other was called Se-neh. Bo-zez means slippery and Se-nah means thorny. Presumably that means one cliff was slippery; and the other was covered in thorns and brambles. So, going down one cliff and up the other was not straightforward.
Everything Jonathan says is interesting and significant. He refers to the Philistines as ‘those uncircumcised fellows’. The Israelites were the circumcised; and circumcision was the sign of God’s promise to be their God. The Philistines were the uncircumcised, because they were not God’s people. And what’s the significance of this? It means that Jonathan believed that God was on their side.
And Jonathan also says: ‘Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.’ That means Jonathan believed that nothing is too hard for the Lord; and he’s able to save his people from the Philistines with a large army or with a small army. God can do anything. Nothing is impossible for him.
But though Jonathan trusts in the Lord, he’s not presumptuous, is he? And so he says to his armour-bearer: ‘Perhaps the Lord will act on our behalf…’ Perhaps he will, but perhaps he won’t. Though he believes that God is on their side, and that nothing is too hard for the Lord, he acknowledges that he doesn’t know what God has planned for them on that particular day. So, we know we can always rely on the Lord, but none of us can tell what God is going to do for us until he does it. I like that verse in the book of James where James rebukes those who boast about what they’re going to do today and tomorrow and the next day. Sure, we don’t know what will happen tomorrow and whether you’ll even be alive tomorrow. And so, James says we should say: ‘If it’s the Lord’s will, we’ll do this and that.’ And we have to say ‘if it’s the Lord’s will’, because none of us knows what God’s will for the future is. And Jonathan understands that. And so, he says: ‘Perhaps the Lord will act on our behalf….’ Perhaps it’s the will of the Lord to help us. Perhaps he’ll help us today; but perhaps he won’t. It’s up to the Lord. And you see, that’s true faith. True faith is not demanding that God should do what we want; true faith means submitting ourselves to God’s will for us, because we believe that God’s will is always perfect.
So, Jonathan believed that nothing is too hard for the Lord, but he’s doesn’t presume to know what God’s will for them was going to be on that particular day. And so, Jonathan proposes a plan to try to discern God’s will. And this is his plan: Let’s show ourselves to the Philistines. If they say to us to stay where we are, then we’ll take it as God’s sign that we’re not to attack them. But if they call on us to come up, we’ll take that as God’s sign to attack them.
So, they showed themselves to the Philistines, who mocked them before calling them to come up. And Jonathan turned to his armour-bearer and said: ‘The Lord has given them into the hand of Israel.’ And they climbed up the cliff and managed to strike down about 20 of the Philistines. And look at verse 15: a panic struck the whole army of Philistines. What made them panic like this? Verse 15 tells us: it was a panic sent by God. And if you glance down to verse 20 you’ll see the outcome of the panic: the Philistines were in total confusion so that they began to strike each other with their swords. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving whether by many or by few. And that’s true, because he can turn an army of soldiers against themselves. And remember? Among the Israelites, only Saul and Jonathan had swords; but that was no problem for the Lord, because he got the Philistines to use their own swords against themselves. And we read that others joined them in the attack. And in verse 23 it tells us that on that day the Lord rescued Israel from the Philistines. He helped Jonathan and his armour-bearer; and he threw the Philistines into a confused panic so that they turned on one another and were easily defeated by the Israelites.
So, this part of the chapter highlights Jonathan’s faith. But what about Saul? Well, go back to verse 2. When Jonathan was preparing to cross the pass, Saul was staying at the outskirts of Gibeah under a pomegranate tree. The word ‘tree’ is not in the original text and some scholars think Saul was in a cave which was known as ‘pomegranate’ because of its appearance. In any case, unlike his son, who was preparing to go into battle, Saul was doing nothing.
But, according to verse 18, Saul and his men eventually noticed that something was going on in the Philistine outpost. They’re not sure what’s happened, because none of them knew about Jonathan’s plan to attack the Philistines. However, once they see their enemies in a panic, Saul decided to gather his men for an attack. And in verse 18, he calls for the priest to bring out the ark of the Lord. Why did he want the ark? Well, the Bible scholars believe he wanted to seek guidance from the Lord. However, if that’s the case, he also seems to abandon the idea, because in verse 19 he tells the priest to withdraw his hand. You might recall that in those days the priest would take one of the Urim and Thummim stones from his pocket in order to discern the will of the Lord. One stone meant ‘yes’ and the other stone meant ‘no’. And when Saul told the priest to withdraw his hand, he presumably meant withdraw it from his pocket where he kept these special stones. In other words, he was saying to the priest: ‘Forget it.’ Instead of seeking God’s will, as Jonathan had done, Saul decided not to seek his guidance that day.
And so, by the end of verse 23, we’re impressed with Jonathan, because of his faith. But, once again, Saul seems slow to do anything; and he once again appears to have no interest in doing the will of the Lord.
Verse 24 to 48
But in the next part of the chapter, we really see Saul’s foolishness. Verse 24 tells us about this oath and curse which Saul had put his men under. Before the battle had begun, he tried to motivate his men by calling down a curse on any of them who eats before Saul’s enemies have been defeated. Whereas Jonathan motivated his armour-bearer by reminding him of God’s ability to save, Saul used threats against his own men. And so, none of them had eaten a thing all day long. None of them, that is, apart from Jonathan, who hadn’t heard his father’s oath, because he was away attacking the Philistines. Well, when they entered some woods, Jonathan saw some wild honey on the ground and he took it and ate it. And according to verse 27 his eyes brightened. It was like drinking one of those energy drinks to help him keeping going.
One of the other soldiers saw what he did and told him about his father’s oath. And look how Jonathan responded in verse 29: ‘My father has made trouble for the country.’ He thinks his father’s oath was foolish, because now his men are tired and weary and they didn’t have the strength or energy to finish what they started and to deal with the Philistines once and for all.
But the oath was foolish for another reason, because at the end of the day, once the battle was over, the soldiers were so famished that they pounced on the plunder and butchered the sheep and cattle and calves and ate the meat in such a hurry that they did not wait to drain off the blood. And, you see, the law of Moses forbade the Israelites from eating the blood of any animal. But they were so hungry, because of Saul’s foolish oath, that they did not want to wait. And so, they broke God’s law, which is always a serious matter.
Well, when Saul heard about it, he made arrangements for an altar to be built and for sacrifices to be offered to the Lord to seek his forgiveness for what they have done wrong. And that all sounds good, doesn’t it? But there’s nothing good about what happens next. Saul decided they should press the attack while they have the advantage. And he’s all set to take off with his men, when the priest interrupts him in verse 36: ‘Don’t you think we should seek God’s guidance?’ It never occurred to Saul.
But when they sought God’s will, God did not answer, which is never a good sign. Saul is sure that someone must have sinned against the Lord and that’s why he’s not answering them. And so, they cast lots — using the Urim and Thummim — to figure out who is responsible. And Saul swears once again that whoever is responsible will die. And the lot falls on Jonathan. ‘What have you done?’ Saul wants to know. Well, what had he done? Nothing apart from eat a little honey. ‘And now must I die?’ Jonathan asks in verse 43.
Well, now we see the height — or the depth — of Saul’s folly, because the king who was meant to lead God’s people in battle against their enemies, is ready to turn against his own son; and all because his son had not heard Saul’s foolish oath forbidding his men from eating.
What should Saul have done? Well, in the first place, he shouldn’t have made the foolish oath, which left his men feeling faint, when they needed all their strength for the battle, and which meant they ate meat with blood in it, which God forbade. And now, having made another foolish oath to kill whoever was chosen by lot, he should have acknowledged his foolishness and spared his son’s life. That’s what he should have done. But instead of doing that, Saul swore another oath in verse 44 saying that his son must die.
Well, fortunately his men disagreed with him and rescued Jonathan that day. The Hebrew text says they ransomed him, which means they brought an offering to the Lord as the ransom price to set him free from the death penalty.
And the chapter ends by telling us about some of Saul’s victories. And it tells us about his family. You see, in some ways, Saul he was a successful king, because he had many victories. But he was also a foolish king; and he disregarded the will of the Lord and he did not keep the word of God. And according to verse 52, all the days of his reign, there was bitter war with the Philistines. He wasn’t able to destroy them completely.
Well, thank God, thank God that he did not leave us with a foolish king like Saul, but he’s given us a king who is like Jonathan, but even better than Jonathan. We don’t want a king like Saul, who disregarded the will of the Lord, and who swore foolish oaths, which only made trouble for his people and his son. We want a king like Jonathan, who trusted in the Lord and who was obedient to God’s will and who acted to save God’s people from the hand of their enemies who were oppressing them. And God has given us a king like Jonathan, and better than Jonathan, because he sent his one and only Son into the world to be our king; and by his death and resurrection God’s Son has won a great victory on our behalf over sin and death, because by his death, he has paid for our sins in full, taking the blame for what we have done wrong, and making peace for us with God; and by his resurrection, he has conquered death on our behalf, so that though we die, we need not fear death, because like him we will be raised from the dead to live with him in body and soul forever. The Israelites were oppressed by the Philistines, who made their life miserable. But the whole human race is oppressed by sin and death, so that our lives here on earth are miserable because of the things we do to one another; and after death there is only condemnation and eternal punishment for those who do not believe in the Saviour. But whoever trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ the King is saved from sin so that we are not condemned; and is saved from death so that we will live with him forever.
And in the meantime, God our Father and Jesus Christ our King work all things together for our good. King Saul made trouble for his people, because of his foolish oath. But whatever troubles happen to us in this life — whether it’s a coronavirus crisis that affects the whole world; or whether it’s trouble at home with our family or trouble at work with our job; or whether it’s trouble with our health; or trouble with our finances; or whatever trouble there is — God our Father and Jesus Christ our King are able to turn it to our good, so that if you trust in them, then you need not be afraid of anything that happens in this world or in your life, and you need not be worried about any trouble, because you know that God your Father and Jesus Christ your King will use it for good.
After Saul did what he did that day, his men must have wondered to themselves whether he can be trusted at all. What will he do next to trouble us? Well, what did God your Father and Jesus Christ your King do for you? God your Father loved you so much that he did not spare his Son but gave him up for you and for your salvation. And Jesus Christ your King loved you so much that he gave up his life for you. That’s how much they love you and care for you. And so, here’s a King you can trust in every circumstance and in every situation.