I Samuel 14





(vs. 1-15).


1 “Now it came to pass upon a day, that Jonathan the son of Saul said

unto the young man that bare his armor, Come, and let us go over to the

Philistines’ garrison, that is on the other side. But he told not his father.”

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.


2 “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;” 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 ch. 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.


3 “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 son of Ahitub. (See on ch. 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

ch. 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 ch.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.


4 “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.”

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 armor 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 labor, could have ‘climbed up upon

his hands and upon his feet, and his armor bearer after him’ (v. 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.”


5 “The forefront of the one was situate northward over against

Michmash, and the other southward over against Gibeah.”

Was situate, etc. The word thus translated is that rendered

pillar in ch. 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 Authorized Version; see ch.13:16). But the word is omitted in

the versions, and may be an interpolation.


6 “And Jonathan said to the young man that bare his armor, 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.” 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.


7 “And his armorbearer said unto him, Do all that is in thine heart:

turn thee; behold, I am with thee according to thy heart.

8 Then said Jonathan, Behold, we will pass over unto these men, and

we will discover ourselves unto them.”  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.”


9 “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.”

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.


10 “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.”  A sign. The waiting of the garrison for Jonathan and his

armor 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).


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.”

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.


12 “And the men of the garrison answered Jonathan and his

armorbearer, and said, Come up to us, and we will shew you a

thing. And Jonathan said unto his armorbearer, Come up after me:

for the LORD hath delivered them into the hand of Israel.”

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.



Inspiration in Christian Enterprise (vs. 1-12)


The facts are:


1. Jonathan, on his own responsibility, and without his father’s knowledge:

resolves on an attack upon the Philistine garrison.

2. He expresses to his armor bearer his hope that God will help, and also

the ground of that hope.

3. He proposes to regard the first encouragement from the enemy to

ascend the cliff as a sign of coming success.

4. The sign appearing, Jonathan advances in confidence of victory.


The recent transgression of Saul was now bearing some bitter fruit in his

comparative inactivity and helplessness. It is not likely that Jonathan was

ignorant of the displeasure of the prophet of God, or was surprised at the

embarrassment which had come upon his father’s affairs. In seasons of

disaster and wrong there are select men of God who mourn the sins of their

superiors and the woes of their country. Being one of this class, Jonathan

may be regarded as exhibiting some of the highest results of the instruction

and influence of Samuel during the slow reformation subsequent to the

victory at Ebenezer. It is in God’s heart to have pity on His people and to

deliver them; but at this juncture can we not discern a wise propriety, not

unmixed with retribution on the king, in conferring the honor of

deliverance upon a man of piety, whose heart evidently yearned for the

highest good of Israel? Thus do we see here, as in many other instances,

how readily, and where not looked for, God raises up instruments to effect

His purposes when the ordinary instruments fail through sin. Private

enterprise can often accomplish what, in consequence of a loss of the right

spirit, organised and official effort is utterly powerless to perform. The

enforced inactivity of Saul, the desolations of the spoilers, and the

multitudes of refugees in the caves of the mountains, must have produced a

most depressing effect on the king and his followers. In their extremity,

under an inspiration most pure and noble, help came in the daring

enterprise of Jonathan, as recorded by the historian. It is possible that a

secular mind on reading the narrative may regard the story as just one of

those records of military adventure that are to be found in the annals of all

warlike nations. But we are to form our estimate of the event by the light

of Scripture; and when we consider it in connection with God’s revealed

purpose to work out the Messianic covenant through a chosen race, the

tenor of Jonathan’s life, and especially his words declaring his faith in God

(v. 6), we must then see here not a wild freak of a daring soldier, nor

even a clever device for achieving merely military distinction, but a true

and noble inspiration to accomplish a great work in the name of God, and

for the ultimate realization of the Divine purposes. It may be assumed that,

under the present conditions of the kingdom of Christ in the world, there is

frequent and full scope for endeavors corresponding, in their relation to

the organized efforts of the Church and in their chief characteristics, to the

effort of Jonathan in its relation to the monarchy. Likewise the same

inspiration is needed for the more perfect development and successful use

of the organized forces of the Church. While nations live in sin, fearful evils

fester in our crowded towns, debasing and dangerous customs hold

multitudes in bondage, avenues to the human mind lie untraversed by

Christian men, and possibly propriety degenerates into a rigid, obstructive

conservatism, there is room for men and women who dare to go and do

what seems impossible, and for a fresh baptism on the hosts of God to

inspire them to deeds of valor and self-denial. It is possible that spurious

forms of enthusiasm may arise, and may pass for heaven-created zeal.

Contagion of sentiment may obtain the force of a torrent. The emotional

element in religion may be abnormally developed, and incline, under

stimulus, to deeds which no sound judgment will justify. But grant all this,

and more, and yet it is true that there is a pure inspiration in the service of

Christ much to be coveted. Let us consider the characteristics of such a

true inspiration.



in private action or in the combined effort of the Church, it does not appear

as the mere product of organization, nor as a revival of stereotyped

custom. Jonathan’s inspiration began in his own heart. It was, in the shape

it took, the natural outcome of the man. Considerations of the position of

affairs aroused his nature, but he was no copyist, no waiter upon other

men’s deeds. Keeping the secret from his father was essential to the more

perfect individuality of his feelings and his enterprise. Ideas grow in power

over us when we nourish them. Sometimes, like the Apostle Paul and

Jonathan, we do better not to “confer with flesh and blood” (Galatians 1:16),

but brood over our thought and purpose, by the aid of the Spirit of God,

till they become a power which must work outwards in forms true to our

own personality.  There is far more individuality in the Christian Church than

is at present developed. When a Christian is, as the result of brooding over

things, so permeated with a conviction of his obligation to Christ, a yearning

to save men from sin, and a spirit of self-sacrifice, as to be mastered by these

forces, he will find out some way in which his natural aptitudes and

capabilities may be turned to account in Christ’s service. All great and

beneficial movements have borne the stamp of individuality, from the

labors of the Apostle Paul on, by Luther, up to the latest endeavors to

save the waifs of our city population.



FOR WHICH CHRIST DIED. Jonathan reveals his piety and his

intelligence in using language to his armor bearer to the effect that he

thought it probable that the Lord might save through his instrumentality.

He sought the salvation which God loves to accomplish, and for which the

order of Providence was working. It is our privilege to take a wider and

more spiritual view than even a devout Hebrew. There is an end

contemplated by God, and being wrought out by the great sacrifice on the

cross, with its concomitant influences — a multitude that no man can

number redeemed out of every nation, kindred, and tribe from the bondage

and pollution of sin. Whoever sets his heart on any good work,

conformable, and therefore tributary, to that issue, — be it social

amelioration, rescue of lost ones from vice, sanitary improvements,

diffusion of knowledge, — is so far sharer in the true inspiration. But

especially is that a true and noble inspiration which not only aims at ends

which, being good and moral, are so far conformable and helpful to the end

for which Christ died, but aims at that spiritual salvation on which the heart

of Christ was supremely set when He gave Himself a ransom for us. This is

the longed for issue of all those noble workers at home or abroad who visit

the abodes of sin, and seek, as though they cannot refrain from it, to gather

the poor degraded ones into the Saviour’s blessed fold.



VANITY.  Jonathan’s motives were transparently pure. There was none of

the restlessness of the inactive soldier craving for opportunity to display

prowess; no regard for self in his self-denial and risks. His references to the

Lord and the saving of the people he loved reveal a true, generous, self-

sacrificing spirit. It is when works of benevolence, and especially works

strictly spiritual, are devised and carried through in this spirit that we are

under the influence of a true inspiration. A love of praise, a desire for

prominence, fondness for being counted a great and successful worker, an

unreasonable sensitiveness to apparent neglect, and kindred feelings, are

the “little foxes” that steal the grapes.  (Song of Solomon 2:15)



OF GOD. Jonathan showed prudence and skill in the ascent of the

precipice and in the encouragement he sought for advancing by means of

the “sign;” but the feat passes out of the category of “reckless,” or even, in

the common usage of the term, “daring,” when we note that, having the

sign as a kind of answer to the prayer of his heart, he rested his success not

on his skill or strength, but on the Lord, with whom there “is no restraint

to save by many or by few.” He was inspired every step of the way up the

rocks by trust in the ever present Power which shields the faithful and

works the wonders of redemption for His people. Here lies the secret of the

true inspiration that has wrought so powerfully in the Church of God in its

purest and most successful eras. The apostles felt that it was not of man,

but of God, to save. A few feeble Jews were mighty, through God, to the

pulling down of many a stronghold. It is this which enables the missionary

to toil on amidst the loathsome vices of the savage, and the friend of the

outcast at home to attempt what none others dare.  (II Corinthians 10:4)



Jonathan said, “It may be that the Lord will work for us,” it was not to

express uncertainty, but to cheer a man of less faith, and to indicate the

belief that God was about to use him in His service. He rightly interpreted

his yearning to be used as an inspiration of God, and when the “sign” came

that assured him that his heart’s desire was accepted, he moved on with a

cheerful spirit. “Come up after me: for the Lord hath delivered them into

the hand of Israel.” The modesty of the assurance! “The hand of Israel;

not “my hand.” This buoyant spirit that looks on in hope founded on deep

conviction of God’s faithfulness inspires every one who is truly called to

labor for Christ. The tone of the apostles all through their toils is one of

cheer. The golden gates of the eternal city seem ever to shine before them,

and they hear already the new song. Every one on whom this true apostolic

succession has come enters into sympathy with them, and no longer toils

with dejected brow and despairing heart.


13 “And Jonathan climbed up upon his hands and upon his feet, and

his armorbearer after him: and they fell before Jonathan; and his

armorbearer slew after him.” 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.


14 “And that first slaughter, which Jonathan and his armorbearer made,

was about twenty men, within as it were an half acre of land, which

a yoke of oxen might plow.” 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

Authorized Version gives the right sense. When Jonathan made his attack,

the garrison probably, not knowing how 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.


15 “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. 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.



The Heroism of Jonathan (vs. 1-15)


“Come, and let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised, etc.

(v. 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 (ch. 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.”


  • EXALTED ASPIRATIONS (v. 1) which:


Ø      Are cherished in adverse circumstances (v. 2; ch.13:22). 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.


Ø      Lead to courageous projects. Jonathan often looks across the ravine

between Bozez and Seneh (vs. 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

armor 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.”

(Galatians 1:16)


Ø      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 (v. 3). What appears presumption to

others is often to one Divinely taught the simple path of duty.


  • EMINENT FAITH (v. 6), including:


Ø      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.


Ø      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” (II 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” (I Corinthians 1:27-28),

and He can do so again. Faith is shown in contemplating the power of

God, and is thereby greatly increased.


Ø      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.”  (Mark 9:23)




Ø      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



Ø      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 (v. 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 (v. 12).


Ø      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.


  • DARING ENERGY (vs. 11-14) in:


Ø      Enduring great risk.


Ø      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.


Ø      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.”


  • INSPIRING SYMPATHY (vs. 7, 13). A believing and heroic spirit

begets the same spirit in others.


Ø      At first those with whom it comes into closest contact — it may be a

single individual.


Ø      Afterwards a host (vs. 21-22).


Ø      And their aid contributes to the general result. “The history of battles

should teach us the mighty power of sympathetic relations.”




Ø      Expressed in the overthrow of the enemy — bringing them into

confusion (v. 15), turning them against one another (v. 16), and saving

Israel from their oppression, as well as in the Providential ordering of all

things that contributed to it.


Ø      In commendation of “the spirit of faith” in which the enterprise was

undertaken and carried out.


Ø      Recognised by all the people. “He hath wrought with God this day”

(v. 45) — wrought effectually through His favor and power. The day

was won by Jonathan; still more by God. So the Lord saved Israel that

day” (v. 23). And TO HIM the glory must be ascribed.




     (vs. 16-23)



16 “And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked; and,

behold, the multitude melted away, and they went on beating down

one another.”  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 v. 19,

margin) was reeling and going… and thither.” Of course hither has

dropped out of the text before and thither (compare ch. 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.


17 “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

armorbearer were not there.  18  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.”

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.


19 “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.”

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.


20 “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.”

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 ch. 5:9.


21 “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.  22  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.”  Round about, even.

All the versions by a very slight alteration change this into turned, which the

Authorized Version 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.


23 “So the LORD saved Israel that day: and the battle passed over unto

Bethaven.”  Over unto Beth-aven. Hebrew, “the battle passed Bethaven,”

i.e. no rally was made there. In v. 31 we read that the pursuit continued as far

as Aijalon. For Beth-aven see on ch. 13:5.



God’s Faithfulness to His Own (vs. 13-23)


The facts are:


1. Jonathan and his servant ascend the precipice and slay, on a narrow strip

of land, about twenty men.

2. A panic arising, from a combination of causes, the commotion attracts

the attention of Saul’s sentinels.

3. It being ascertained that Jonathan was engaged against the Philistines,

inquiry is sought of God, by Saul, through the priest Ahiah.

4. The tumult among the Philistines increasing, Saul abruptly stops the

inquiry and leads on his followers to battle.

5. The deserters and the fugitives fall on the rear of the retreating



The historian sums up the narrative of events in this section by

the suggestive words, “So the Lord saved Israel that day.” It was “the

Lord,” working through the instrumentality of a noble hearted man and the

events concurrent with his action — not withholding the reward of fidelity,

notwithstanding the questionable conduct of the king. “It is the Lord,”

must be the verdict of history, not only of their deliverance, but of many

others in all time.



WHICH HE INSPIRES. There can be no doubt but that Jonathan received

this “good and perfect gift” (James 1:17) of inspiration, to seek the salvation

of his country, from God. We have seen that it could not have been a mere

human, earth born impulse. There may be a point at which the human free

aspiration becomes touched with a Divine power; but, as a whole, the

impulse is of God. The narrative tells us how certainly God wrought for

the perfecting of that which he saw in the heart. Not a step of his way did

Jonathan find to be a practical denial of the truth of his inward prompting.

Thus the life of the true man of God is crowded with evidences of the

Divine faithfulness. He who begins a “good work” within us will carry it

through (Philippians 1:6). He is “not unrighteous to forget our work of faith

and labor of love” (Hebrews 6:10).  He will “perfect that which concerneth

us.”  (Psalm 138:8)  “Loving His own,” He loves “to the end.” (John 13:1) 

Abraham, under an inspiration from God, went forth, and all through his

pilgrimage he found Jehovah to be a covenant keeping God. In our painful

and protracted endeavors, in obedience to an aspiration born from above to

rise to the heights of holiness and to bless others, we shall find Him faithful

who hath promised never to leave nor forsake us.




RESULT OF EFFORT. The Divine faithfulness is not arbitrarily and

absolutely manifested. It is seen in realizing the desired end by a succession

of events naturally connected. Jonathan’s exertions were put forth as

though all rested on the courage of his own heart and the strength of his

own arm. The narrative shows us how an unseen hand upheld the brave

soldier, and caused diverse things to converge on the one issue: e.g. the

young soldier’s skill, tact, and courage; the folly of the defenders in

allowing him a footing on the narrow pathway of the upper part of the

precipice; the fear aroused through ignorance of the full facts of the

assault; the panic spread from post to post; the onward movement of Saul’s

troop; and the opportunity created for the rallying of fugitives and deserters

(vers. 21-22).  Such an historical episode is of great value to us, as indicating

in distinct, traceable incidents the reality of that Divine wisdom and power

which ever presides over all the efforts of Christians to rid themselves and

the world of sin. It illustrates as on a picture the great formula of faith —

“All things work together for good to them that love God.” (Romans 8:28)

As “the stars in their courses fought against Sisera  (Judges 5:20),

and as even holy angels are “ministering spirits sent forth to minister to

those who shall be heirs of salvation” (Hebrews 1:14), so may it be said,

in the case of every one who strives to purify himself from all sin, or seeks

by some bold or ordinary endeavor to win the world over to Christ,

“all things are yours”  (I Corinthians 3:22), are being governed by the

Lord of all so as to subserve the one holy end to the attainment of which

your hearts are inspired.




PROCURED BY THE MORE PERFECT. Primarily, it was God’s

compassion for Israel and His covenant with Abraham that must account

for this new deliverance. Secondarily, it was a reward to Jonathan’s fidelity

and self-consecration. Saul had shut himself out of the honor and privilege

of obtaining deliverance for the nation. Even now his old folly and rashness

reappear, in religiously beginning to seek counsel, thus honoring God, and

then in irreverently discontinuing to seek that counsel, through his

impetuous haste to join in the pursuit, thus preferring the impulse of his

heart to the declared will of God. Nevertheless, even Saul derives great

advantage from the prowess of the good and devout Jonathan. God, in His

mercy, does not sacrifice the final interests of His people to the folly of a

leader. Thus, also, Joseph’s brethren shared in the prosperity won by their

holy and wise brother. The inferior Christians of today participate in some

of the outward blessings accruing to the faithful as the result of their fidelity.



It would be a profitable study to note in detail, over the field of sacred

and Church history, and in the sphere of private Christian enterprise, to

what a large extent the world is indebted for spiritual, material, and

educational good to the honor God has put on the labors of the most

faithful of His servants.  The cumulating record of God’s faithfulness to

His people through the long ages should make us calm, strong, and immovable

in the most perilous of enterprises undertaken for Christ.  “Therefore my

beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the

work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain

in the Lord.”  (I Corinthians 15:58)



Impatience in Seeking Divine Counsel (vs. 16-23)


“Withdraw thine hand” (v. 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” (I 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 ‘Dictionary). “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

organizations 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” (ch. 10:22; Judges 1:1; 20:27;),

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”

(Romans 12:12); 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:”




Ø      The need of human effort, as if nothing else were necessary to success

(Psalm 33:16-17; 127:1-2).


Ø      The gain of earthly honor or other advantages. Saul was eager to

obtain, beyond everything else, the glory of a victory over his enemies.


Ø      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” (Matthew Henry).




Ø      Inappreciation of its worth. Men often imagine that their own wisdom

and strength are sufficient, and that it can be done without.


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


Ø      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.





Ø      Seeking Him in an insincere, inconsistent, and hypocritical manner,

which the cessation of prayer plainly shows (Job 27:10).


Ø      Preferring personal and immediate convenience to His honor, and

desiring His help only in so far as it may be conducive to self-interest.


Ø      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).




Ø      Destitution of the highest counsel and aid.


Ø      Unpreparedness for duty and conflict.


Ø      A course of recklessness, sin, trouble, and humiliation (vs. 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).



SAUL’S RASH COMMAND (vs. 24-35).


24 “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.” The men of Israel were distressed that day.

The word is that used in ch.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.


25 “And all they of the land came to a wood; and there was honey upon

the ground.”  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.


26 “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. More correctly, “Behold, a stream

(or a flowing) of honey.”



Rashness (vs. 24-26)


“Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening,” etc. (v. 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 (vs. 39, 44), all indicating the recklessness and willfulness

of his course.


Ø      His concern for the law (vs. 33-34),

Ø      His erection of an altar (v. 35),

Ø      His asking counsel of God before going to spoil the enemy by night (v. 37),

Ø      His eagerness to ascertain by lot the cause of the silence of the oracle (v. 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:




Ø      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 recognize his fault when

plainly set before him.


Ø      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).


Ø      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




it is said “the people were faint” (vs. 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.



avoided one offence only to commit another with a rashness equal to that

of Saul himself (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 3:17; 7:27; Deuteronomy 12:16).

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).


  • IMPERILLING INNOCENT LIFE. Not having heard the oath,

Jonathan, in unconsciously violating it (v. 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

(v. 37), and resulted in his being chosen by the lot (v. 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 (v. 43). But Saul’s last oath was more

reckless than his first; it was ignorant and willful, showed more concern

about the literal fulfillment 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.).


  • BRINGING DEEP HUMILIATION (v. 45). The ominous silence of

the people (v. 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.


  • DEFEATING ITS OWN AIMS. (v. 46). “My father hath brought

disaster on the land,” etc. (vs. 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” (v. 52). That which begins in rashness

ends in disappointment and grief.


27 “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, 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 Authorized Version was

made the kri was supposed to be authoritative, but most modern commentators

have come to the opposite conclusion.


28 “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.”

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 right

rendering is were weary, as in the margin and Judges 4:21.


29 “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.” My father hath troubled the land. I.e. hath brought disaster

upon it (see Joshua 7:25). This disaster was the incompleteness of the victory,

owing to the people being too exhausted to continue the pursuit.


30 “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?  31 And they smote the

Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon: and the people were very

faint.”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 v. 28.


32 “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. 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 ch. 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.


33 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.

34 “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.”  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 carcases 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.


35 “And Saul built an altar unto the LORD: the same was the first altar

that he built unto the LORD.” And Saul built an altar unto Jehovah as a thank

offering for the Divine favor 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 (II 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.



Unwise Zeal and Moral Obtuseness (vs. 24-35)


The facts are:


1. Saul by a rash vow causes great distress among the people and

diminishes the fruits of victory.

2. Jonathan, unawares, takes food contrary to his father’s prohibition, and

on being informed of the truth, deplores the imprudence of the vow.

3. As a consequence of the enforced exhaustion, the people at the close of

the day violate the ceremonial law by a voracious meal of flesh unduly


4. Saul, professing to be shocked at their sin, provides means by which the

offense may be avoided, and raises an altar unto the Lord.


The turn in affairs brought on by Jonathan’s heroism was most welcome to Saul,

as it seemed to be the return of the prosperity which had received a check in his

own sin at Gilgal. There had been no expressions of sincere penitence, nor,

as far as the narrative gives light, any effort to regain former relationships

to Samuel. The impulsive rush from the inquiring priest to join in the

pursuit revealed a state of mind which at once accounts for the curse

pronounced on any one who should dare to take food. The facts included

in the section before us furnish a conspicuous instance of unwise zeal and

moral obtuseness.


  • UNWISE ZEAL. The zeal of Saul was conspicuous enough. As in the

case of Joshua (Joshua 8:8-13), there was an intense desire to put into

a single day all the exertion possible in order to make the victory over

God’s enemies more complete. There was clearly in his mind an idea that

he was doing God service (v. 33). But the unwisdom of the zeal is

equally conspicuous; for it prevented, by the physical weakness induced,

the very end designed (vs. 29-30): it caused pain and annoyance to an

obedient people, who, while submissive, must have lost some respect for

their monarch’s judgment; it exposed the best man of the day to a great

peril, and the people to a strong temptation to commit excess. Unwise zeal

may be considered variously.


Ø      As reform. It assumes diverse forms according to the circumstances of

the case.


o        Sometimes the aim may be wrong, as when the Jews in apostolic times,

in their zeal, not according to knowledge sought most energetically to

perpetuate a decaying ceremonial. The same is true of all who compass

sea and land to make mere proselytes to their order or sect, or to bring

modern feeling and usage back, in matters of minor significance, to the

style of the past.


o        Often the method is wrong, as in the case of Saul. Men have not

always the wisdom to conserve or develop, as the occasion may

demand, their energy suitably to the end in view. There is an enormous

waste in the world from this cause. Perhaps no man, in his daily calling,

is free from this form of unwise zeal. We see illustrations of this in the

untiring effort of some to be justified before God by their own deeds

of righteousness; in the constant and painful flow of penitential tears

and self-inflicted sorrows as means of the forgiveness which comes

only by calm trust in Christ; and in the wild and ill considered

agencies sometimes used to win careless men to Christ.


o        Sometimes the end is good and the method, but the time is unsuited. It

might be good for Israel to chase the foe with full energy, and also

good to fast, but the time was not suitable for the conjunction of the two.

It is mistaken zeal to concentrate all strength on the edification of a

Church when multitudes are living outside the fold of Christ. Wisdom

lies much in doing work at the right season.


Ø      As to origin. Saul’s unwise zeal arose from his impulsive temperament

not being chastened and regulated by a diligent use of the counsel which

was always available to him as king from God. This radical error accounts

for the ill-balanced judgment which could not see the effect of a long fast

on physical energy, for the rash utterance, for the eager springing at the

first chance to escape from the helpless position consequent, on recent

transgression, and for the egotistical reference to avenging his own

enemies. The origin of unwise zeal in most instances is connected with

deficient waiting upon God. The knowledge of men may be defective, their

temperament may be impulsive, their prevision of a low grade, their self-

regulation a matter of emotional pressure rather than of reason; and yet if

such men would, remembering their obvious imperfections, devoutly wait

on God for His guidance, and seek daily grace to govern themselves, they

would avoid many blunders in practice. Imperfectly balanced men will

never do work in life perfectly. We must lay to our account a large

proportion of foolish deeds in Christian and secular enterprise. The

calming, enlightening power of devotion is not fully recognized.


Ø      As to consequences. In Saul’s case, as already indicated, it induced

trouble and pain to his people, interfered with the most perfect success of

Jonathan’s effort (vs. 29-30), lowered himself in the eyes of his subjects

as a king deficient in judgment, and, by exercise, intensified the defective

qualities which gave rise to it. We have here a summary of what always

attends unwise zeal. Every foolish display of energy, even in a good cause,

brings distress to those who have the interests of religion and humanity at

heart. Being a waste of power, and therefore a violation of the moral and

social laws by which God brings the highest results to pass, it impedes the

subjugation of evil to good. and the final triumph of God’s kingdom. The

world is suffering still from erratic courses, destitute of sound judgment,

pursued in the name of religion; from a concentration of energy on

superficial instead of on radical evils; and from an undue application of

resources to the curative methods, in frequent oversight of the preventive.


  • MORAL OBTUSENESS. The moral obtuseness of Saul’s character

had manifested itself in his evident inability to see at Gilgal (ch. 13:8-10)

the stupidity of seeking to please God by an act of worship which

itself was a violation of His explicit commands. Character becomes more

fixed as time passes on; and here we see Saul so morally obtuse as not to

perceive that, while condemning a ceremonial offence on the part of the

people (v. 33), he was unconscious of the folly of his own conduct, and

of the moral offence both of laying on the people a serious hindrance to

victory and of preferring his own wild impulse to the counsel of Jehovah.

Moral obtuseness may be regarded in reference to:


Ø      Its causes e.g.:


o        inherited dullness of conscience,

o        imperfectly formed moral discrimination in early years,

o        growing habituation to formal religious acts,

o        the influence of a low state of public morality, and

o        postponement of sincere repentance after known transgressions.


Ø      Its manifestation e.g.:


o        in rigid external observances to the neglect of spiritual culture,

o        combination of religious zeal with positive indulgence in immoral


o        ease in detecting palpable offenses in others with self-complacent

views of one’s own condition,

o        insensibility to the truth which awakens the finer spiritual feelings

of other men, and

o        coarse treatment of the sensitive.


Ø      Its danger e.g. in being inaccessible to many of the most elevating

influences, rendered more dense by every repeated exercise, and productive

of a delusive self-righteousness which becomes more self-assertive in

proportion as inward defilement prevails.


Ø      Its treatment e.g. by distinct personal teaching of the most

discriminating and pungent character, placing the individuals in close

association with persons of fine spiritual discernment and delicacy of

character as a striking foil, prompting to acts that will tend to reveal the

inward incompetency, and special prayer for the quickening of the life

giving Spirit.




Ø      Cultivate a refined moral sensibility in youth as a basis for life.

Ø      Men in office need prayer for special spiritual wisdom.

Ø      When sin has been committed it should be repented of at once, and

special prayer made lest its inward influence be to lower the tone

of feeling.






36 “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.”  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 v. 19).


37 “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.

38  And Saul said, Draw ye near hither, all the chief of the people: and know

and see wherein this sin hath been this day.”  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.



Drawing Near to God (vs. 36-37)


Of the fallen house of Eli, one at least, Ahiah (Ahimelech - ch. 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 v.19).

(This evil step is being duplicated by the the government of the United

States!  CY – 2016)  His language is suggestive of:



It is:


Ø      A possibility. For God is “nigh at hand, and not afar off”

(“For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh

unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call

upon Him for? Deuteronomy 4:7; – [this passage once was a

description of the condition of the United States of America,

“but not no more!” – CY – 2016] Psalm 145:18; Jeremiah 23:23).

He has provided a way of access — an altar (Hebrews 13:10), a

sacrifice, and a high priest (ibid. ch.7:19; 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.”


Ø      A privilege. What higher privilege or honor can be conferred than to

hold converse with so glorious a Being? What greater benefit than His

fellowship, counsel, and aid? (Psalm 73:28).


Ø      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” (ibid. ch. 62:8).





Ø      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 (ch. 12:23).


Ø      To exhibit a devotional spirit in his relations 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).


Ø      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;

I Timothy 2:8).



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 (v. 37). Such advice and prayer are generally effectual:


Ø      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.


Ø      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.


Ø      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.



answered him not that day” (ch. 28:6, 15). The silence of God is

significant. It indicates:


Ø      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).


Ø      The duty of its discovery, by means of diligent inquiry and self-

examination (Joshua 7:13; Psalm 139:23-24; Lamentations 3:40).


Ø      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



39 “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.”  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.


40 “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.  41 Therefore Saul said unto the LORD God of

Israel, Give a perfect lot. And Saul and Jonathan were taken: but the

people escaped.”  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 Authorized Version 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.


42 And Saul said, Cast lots between me and Jonathan my son. And Jonathan

was taken.  43 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.”  44 “And Saul answered,

God do so and more also: for thou shalt surely die, Jonathan.”

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.


45 “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.”  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 Authorized Version 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.



Remonstrance with Rulers (v. 45)


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 — vs. 26, 34, 36), observe that it was:


  • JUST; in opposition to an unreasonable, arbitrary, and cruel decision

(v. 44), in defense of the innocent, and impelled by “an enlightened

conscience and generous enthusiasm.”


  • DEVOUT; recognizing 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.



Cooperation with God (v. 45)


“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 “laborers together with God” (I Corinthians 3:9; II Corinthians 6:1).

Notice —




Ø      To overcome sin and misery amongst men.

Ø      To promote righteousness and happiness in ourselves and others.

Ø      To extend the kingdom and glory of God.




Ø      Studying the laws or modes of God’s working (Ecclesiastes 3:14)

and the manifold intimations of His will.

Ø      Trusting in Him, firmly resting on His promises, and patiently waiting

their fulfillment. Oftentimes “our strength is to sit still.”

Ø      Using with diligence the strength He gives, still depending on Him “who

worketh all in all” (I Corinthians 12:6; Philippians 2:13; Isaiah 26:12).




Ø      Conscious approbation of God.

Ø      Effectual aid.

Ø      Certain achievement. “In due season we shall reap if we faint not.”

(Galatians 6:9)


46 “Then Saul went up from following the Philistines: and the Philistines

went to their own place.”  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.



Seeking Counsel of God and Keeping One’s Word

      (vs. 36-46)


The facts are:


1. Saul, following his own impulse, desires to pursue the Philistines during

the night, but is restrained by the priest advising to seek counsel of God.

2. No answer coming from God, Saul concludes that sin has been

committed, and resolves that the sinner when discovered shall die.

3. A lot being taken, it falls on Jonathan, who admits having tasted honey,

and submits to the sentence.

4. Saul, again solemnly consigning his son to death, is confronted by the

people, who claim and rescue Jonathan’s life on the ground that he was

doing God’s work that day.


Rash impulse was the besetting sin of Saul.  Being by Divine arrangement more than

a military leader, it was his duty to seek guidance FROM GOD in times of uncertainty.

Men of cooler judgment doubted whether it was wise to urge on all through the night

men who had been worn down by fasting all day, and were scarcely free from their

evening meal. The priest evidently saw that Saul’s haste and the unexpressed

hesitation of the people could be best dealt with by consulting the Urim. The Divine

silence at once indicated that something was wrong, and according to precedent it

was necessary to ascertain where it lay. The ceremonial wrong was Jonathan’s,

the moral Saul’s. The moral degeneracy of Saul was not only seen in his impulsive

neglect of God’s counsel, but also in the self-complacent zeal with which he sought

out the breach of his own rash command, and in the unnatural harshness of his

sentence. People are sometimes better than their rulers, and hence the popular

sense of justice demanded that in this instance royal authority and national custom

should give way before the manifest will of God. Jonathan must not die,

even though a king’s word be broken. The three prominent matters of the

narrative are:

Ø      seeking counsel,

Ø      keeping one’s word, and

Ø      safety in God.


  • SEEKING COUNSEL. It is the part of wisdom in life’s affairs to seek

counsel of God; and although sometimes no counsel is given, its absence is

very instructive, and the causes of it are ascertainable. (James 1:5-8)  In the

case of Saul both duty and privilege demanded a frequent appeal to God.

On the occasion before us the need was real, the method was at hand, and

response was possible, and a lack of response was itself of value. Our

common human relation to God is not unlike that of Israel’s king.


Ø      There is for every one frequent need of Divine counsel. Life, even under

the direction of the clearest reason and purest natural impulses, is not safe;

for sin has disturbed the nature of the best of men. It is not always that that

which at first seems good and safe turns out in the end to be so. What to

do in private, domestic, and public affairs, and what proportion of time and

strength to give to various claims, are questions pressing on every

conscientious mind. In matters pertaining to religious belief, culture, and

enterprise, we each, if life be not stagnant, require more than earthly

wisdom. The heart of man is sensible that it is not in him infallibly and

safely to “direct his steps,” and hence in all lands it instinctively though

often in ignorance, cries out for the living God (Proverbs 16:9;

Jeremiah 10:23).


Ø      There is a method at hand. The Urim was not far from Saul. By a study

of God’s will as seen in His word, His providence, the yearnings of a

sanctified heart, and the voice of His peoples we may gain guidance in

addition to that private illumination which unquestionably comes in answer

to true prayer. No rule can be laid down for individuals. Each day’s

circumstances must suggest the means we use to ascertain the will of God.


Ø      There is reason for looking for a response to our seeking. It was a tacit

understanding with Saul on the settlement of the kingdom (ch. 9:25-27;

10:24-25) that he might count on the guidance of God. Samuel’s

exhortations and instructions all through proceeded on this assumption.

Nor was God’s silence on the present occasion contrary to this; for it was

of itself a significant indication of the mind of God. Saul knew its meaning.

The exhortations to us to “seek the Lord,” the distinct promises that He will

“hear,” the many instances on record in which men sought and followed

the Lord, raise an assurance that the seed of Jacob shall not seek His face in

vain. The answer may come in unlooked for forms:


o        in the clearing of our moral perceptions,

o        the secret bent given to the purified heart,

o        the opening up of courses of action, or

o        a concurrence of events and influences,


but come it will some time if we are sincere and earnest.


Ø      The absence of response is often accountable. We know why Saul’s

seeking for counsel was in vain. There are frequent instances in which the

silence of God is conspicuous. He was silent when the Psalmist cried unto

him to awake (Psalm 35:22-24); when defiled men cried unto him

(Isaiah 1:12-15); when amidst the storm men were in fear (Matthew 8:24-26);

when in presence of a wounded heart He would not heed captious

men (John 8:6-7); and when questioned by one who had no right to

assume a tone of authority (John 19:9). Even though our holiness of

life, or at least consistency, be real, and our supposed need be urgent, it is

possible that the discipline of faith and patience is the reason for no response.


  • KEEPING ONE’S WORD. Saul felt bound in honor to keep his

word, even at the cost of his son’s life. He found himself in an awkward

position, for it would reveal an irresolution unfavorable to authority if he

should overlook his son’s deed under a plea of ignorance which any one

might make; and, on the other hand, as the people did believe Jonathan’s

plea, and held him to be the real victor of the day, it would expose Saul’s

folly and injustice if he should take away so valuable a life. Such was Saul’s

sense of the importance of keeping his word, that all must be sacrificed to it.


Ø      There is a fictitious truthfulness. The bare doing as he had said, and

merely because he had said it, was Saul’s ideal of truthfulness. Here, then,

was a vague apprehension of a grand virtue, and a crude presentation of

moral obliquity as being identical with it. Truth is a virtue entering into the

depths of life; and had Saul been really a man of truth, he would have

considered Jonathan’s case on its own merits, have honestly admitted the

folly and sin of his own rash declaration, and have sacrificed his own repute

to the general interests of righteousness. There is much fictitious

truthfullness in the world. Some men, by sheer obstinacy of disposition, will

do as they say simply because they said it, heedless of the injury it may do.

To keep to what one has acknowledged to be binding is supposed to be

truthfulness in act, and yet many will be rigorous in the observance of some

moral obligations and careless of others. To avoid theft and murder is

coincident with deeds of lying and selfishness. A similar fictitious

truthfulness is seen in the careful outward observance of days without

cherishing the spirit in accordance with them, and in the performance of

acts of worship as a substitute for the homage of the soul.


Ø      Real truthfulness is a quality of extreme importance. Saul confessed this

in his zeal for the fictitious; as do all men in their devices to secure an

appearance of it, and their instinctive homage to the reality when presented

in word or deed. Real truthfulness does not apply merely to

correspondence of statement with occurrence. It is another name for

reality in thought, feeling, life; and it applies to our relation both to man

and God. The conformity of our nature with what is befitting a creature of

the Holy One is the real truthfulness. Hence, nothing enters the New

Jerusalem that maketh a lie.” (Revelation 21:27)  Hence, regeneration is a

renewal “in the image of Him” who created us. (Colossians 3:10)  Hence,

also, in so far as we are like unto Him who is “the Truth” all our relations

to men are pure, lovely, honest — the natural outcome of “truth in the

inward parts.”  (Psalm 51:6)  This quality is essential to the most perfect

social confidence; for it renders fraud, deceit, selfishness, dissimulation,

distrust impossible, and the reverse virtues real, whenever it is dominant

in human nature. Attention to this in education is supremely important.


  • SAFETY IN GOD. Jonathan’s life was safe in God’s care in spite of

zeal for a fictitious regard for truth on the part of his father. The voice of

the people demanding his release was the voice of God, and the honor put

on Jonathan during the previous day was evidence to all but the obstinate

king of a favor much to be desired. He who had gone forth in the service

of the Lord with true, honest heart, and had been shielded in the dangerous

enterprise, was not forsaken by his God when now the rashness of man

encompassed his life with peril. Thus, the custom of Eastern rulers keeping

their word when once uttered (Judges 11:30-39; Matthew 14:9),

personal consistency, and royal authority must give place where God

makes manifest His approval. Does not the position of Jonathan lead our

thoughts on to our own in a greater day of trial? We are not to be tried by

the variable impulse of man or established custom, but by impartial justice.

What God declares shall be done when our day’s battle is over will be done

in truth. If He acquits us then, who is He that condemneth? (Romans 8:34)

His favor will save from a worse calamity than any that threatened Jonathan;

and the practical question is how to come into such relation to God that the

universal demand of justice shall be for our not perishing. The answer is:

“There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus” ( ibid. v. 1);

“Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that

justifieth (ibid. v. 33).





Ø      We are consistent with our privileges when not only our calamities and

great affairs, but our ordinary actions, are made subject to Divine guidance

(Philippians 4:6).


Ø      It is especially desirable to seek counsel of God when we are conscious

of restlessness and ill-regulated impulse.


Ø      Faithfulness requires that, a promise or engagement being made, we

keep our word even at much personal cost; but when such loss would

occur, generosity requires of the gainer that it be not wholly insisted on

(Psalm 15:4; Luke 6:31; Ephesians 4:32).


Ø      Truthfulness in character is the opposite of sinfulness, for sin is a

practical lie (Genesis 3:1-5; I John 2:4).


Ø      Our final safety rests not on the past untarnished purity of life

(Romans 3:10; I John 1:8), but on our being identified with

Messiah’s life and purpose (John 14:19; Romans 8:35-39).




(vs. 47-52).


47 “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.”  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 favor 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

II Samuel 8:3-8; 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.”


48 “And he gathered an host, and smote the Amalekites, and delivered

Israel out of the hands of them that spoiled them.” He gathered a host.

So the Syriac and Vulgate, but the margin is probably the true meaning,

“He wrought mightily,” or valiantly.



The Restless King (vs. 47-48)


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 cars 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 valor 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 organized 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 fullness 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 willful

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!


49 “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:”

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 (ch. 31:2, as also in I Chronicles 8:33; 9:39).

A fourth son, Esh-baal, subsequently called Ishbosheth, is omitted. The daughters,

Merab and Michal, are mentioned because of the history in ch. 18:17-21.


50 “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.”  Saul’s wife was Ahinoam, the daughter of Ahimaaz. We

have noticed on v. 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 (compare ch.9:1).


51 “And Kish was the father of Saul; and Ner the father of Abner was

the son of Abiel.” 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.”


52 “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.”

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.



Gradation in Service (vs. 47-52)


The facts are:


1. Saul’s warlike efforts issue in the general discomfiture of his enemies.

2. The domestic relations of Saul are incorporated in the record of facts

pertaining to gradual unfolding of the Divine purpose.

3. During all his conflicts with the Philistines Saul shows prudence in

strengthening his military position.


The section gives a summary of the military operations of Saul’s reign and of the

success of his efforts, and also places on the page of sacred history the names of the

members of his family. Judged by rules applicable to ordinary historical records,

the brief reference to his wars may appear to have little or no moral significance,

and the allusion to his father, his wife, and children to be merely a matter of

Jewish antiquarian interest. But the Bible was composed under the

guidance of a higher than human wisdom; and both in what it includes and

omits there is a relation to the higher spiritual issues in which the events of

Jewish history culminated. There had been given to Saul the opportunity of

rendering service to Israel, both by setting them free from the oppression

of enemies and by inspiring the nation with a spirit conformable to the

great Messianic purpose for which they existed. He failed to enter into the

high spiritual aspirations suitable to a ruler of the chosen race, and

therefore history simply records the fact that his life was spent in the

rendering of the lower kind of service. Repression of the foe was service,

but of an inferior type. He missed a chance of doing a more glorious and

enduring work.



possibilities of Saul’s life when entering on his public career are manifest.

They were not realized, though he, using certain natural abilities, succeeded

in rendering valuable service as a warrior. Of every human being it may be

said, as he enters on life, there is a possibility of conferring few or many,

small or great, benefits on his kind. The conditions of rising to the higher

grade of service are the possession of appropriate natural abilities and an

occasion for employing them. These conditions being given, it rests with

his will to rise to the higher level or to be content with the lower. Secular

and spiritual are not always good terms to indicate spheres of activity,

because every act can and ought to be spiritual in its tone and principle.

But for our present purpose we may use the terms in the common

acceptation. There are grades of service:


Ø      In the secular sphere. It may not be easy to construct a scale that shall in

detail exhibit the relative value of labor, but there are broad outlines

which are always recognized in civilized society. Manual toil is not

comparable with mental. That service which relates to the material

condition of mankind is inferior to that which bears on the moral. Whatever

produces temporary effects is of less value than that which issues in the

enduring. There are men who remain all their days on the lowest level, and

there have been some who rose from that position to almost, if not quite,

the highest in the scale. No man’s contribution to the common weal is to be

despised, but every man is bound to rise as high as possible in the scale of

valuable service.


Ø      In the spiritual sphere. As in ancient times there were “hewers of wood

and drawers of water” (Joshua 9:23), subordinate, in the common work of

the chosen race, to men of loftier aspiration and more refined occupation, so

in the Christian Church there are diversities in gifts and service. Generically

all true Christians are equal in privilege of position and in function as

witness bearers for Christ. And there is no room for boasting or invidious

comparisons, as it is the “grace of God” which worketh all in all. Yet as a

matter of fact, arising partly from great diversity in natural capacity and

partly from causes in the individual will, there are distinct gradations in

kind and value of service rendered, as tested by the strength of principle

involved and the enduring character of the effect. There are men who

devote time and means only to the preservation of the outward

organizations of the Church. Others, nourishing their own piety with care,

minister consolation and instruction to the sick and ignorant. Others, again,

by a wonderfully holy and beautiful life at home, as well as quiet zeal

outside, train souls for Christ, and leave an imperishable impress on the





the spirit awakened by his converse with Samuel and the subsequent

inspiration from God (ch. 9:25-27; 10:9), and strengthened it by

obedience in the hour of trial (ch. 13:13), far nobler service

would have been recorded of him than that he made war with the

Philistines all the days of his life. His successor David entered on a higher

sphere. Of course both in the secular and spiritual spheres natural capacity

and education are important determinants, as also the occurrence of

favorable opportunities. But, as a rule, the position we occupy depends

on our disposition to improve such opportunities as now and then fall to

the lot of most persons. Hundreds are “hewers of wood and drawers of

water” all their days because in early life they failed to seize the chance of

developing their own powers. In science and literature there are men who,

when raw youths of meager education, laid hold of some passing

opportunity for self-improvement which opened the way to still higher

advantages. In the Church there are and have been noble men who,

carefully nourishing the sacred gift of a new spirit and availing themselves

of some chance of doing good, rose from obscurity to the distinction of

ambassadors for Christ, “whose praise is in all the Churches.”  (II Corinthians

8:18)  There are Sauls and Davids still.



Saul’s Sovereignty and Wars, His Army and Family

       (vs. 47-52)


From this summary observe that:



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.



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.



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. (vs. 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:


Ø      preliminary conditions,

Ø      outward circumstances, and

Ø      spiritual gifts.



gathered a host” (v. 48), or acquired power. He formed a standing army,

as it had been predicted (ch. 8:11-18; 22:7). He employed his

power for his own aggrandizement. “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).



“There was sore war,” etc. (v. 52). “Very different had been the state of things

when Samuel ruled Israel (ch. 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 ‘Commentary).



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 (I Corinthians 15:24-28).





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