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SAUL AND JONATHAN

1 Samuel 13:1-14:52
Key Verse: 14:6

In the previous passage we studied about Samuel’s farewell speech, which demonstrated his deep love for the LORD God and his true love for the people of God. Today’s passage is about Saul and his son Jonathan. They had a blood relationship, as father and son. However, there were many differences between them-- one critical difference was faith. Saul had no true faith in God, so he was self-centred and legalistic and fearful, but Jonathan had faith in the living God, so he was God-centred and free and confident. Faith makes people different. Let’s think about it in this study.

First, Saul, a man of no faith (13:1-15). Verse 1 says, “Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty two years.” And then in verse 2, “Saul chose three thousand men from Israel; two thousand were with him at Micmash and in the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan at Gibeah in Benjamin. The rest of the men he sent back to their homes.” This was Israel’s deployment for the battle.

Jonathan attacked the Philistine outpost at Geba, and the Philistines heard about it. Then Saul had the trumpet blown throughout the land and said, “Let the Hebrews hear!’ So all Israel heard the news: ‘Saul has attacked the Philistine outpost, and now Israel has become a stench to the Philistines.” And the people were summoned to join Saul at Gilgal.” It seems that Jonathan took initiative in the battle and Saul took this opportunity to summon the Israelites to join him at Gilgal for the battle. What happened next?

Look at verse 5. “The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Michmash, east of Beth Aven.” The deployment of the Philistines’ army was incomparable to that of Israel’s. It was imposing and daunting. So when the men of Israel saw that their situation was critical and their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns. Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. It was really a difficult situation to handle. What did Saul do in such a state? In verses 7b-10, “Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel (10:8); but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. So he said, ‘Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings. And Saul offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.” It was likely that Saul had simply acted to do his best to cope with such a critical, hard-pressed and declining situation.

Next, look at verses 11-12. “‘What have you done?’ asked Samuel. Saul replied, ‘When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, I thought, “Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD’s favour.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.’” Saul’s point was that according to his judgment the situation was inevitable. So he made an excuse for the act he did, the act of offering the burnt offering, which he was not supposed to do. What he did seemed to be reasonable and excusable.

How did Samuel respond to it? “You acted foolishly,” Samuel said. He did not say, “I understand you. You handled the situation wisely.” Rather, he said, “You acted foolishly.” That was a foolish thing to do. What does that mean? Samuel said continually, “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him lead of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.” Samuel dealt with Saul’s not keeping the LORD’s command seriously. It is mentioned two times. On the surface he seemed to keep the command of waiting for Samuel seven days. Yet, his keeping the command was legalistic and expedient, not wholehearted and absolute. Saul could not keep the command absolutely, because he could not believe that God would help him in such a situation. In other words he did not fear God, but feared the people and the situation. So he could not say clearly with warning to those who were scattering. He himself was quaking with fear; so were the troops with him. So he acted according to his thoughts and feelings. His acting according to his thought and feeling, without faith in God and obedience in his word, was the downfall in his life.

What can we learn here? How can we keep the command of God in a seemingly inevitable situation? We should believe in God absolutely, who can help us in any situation. Our faith in God should be absolute, although it is as small as a mustard seed. For this we should fight against relativistic ideas and legalistic attitude and self-centred way of thinking and feelings. How can we do that? We should see ourselves before God in the light of his word. We need to learn obedience even in doing a small thing based on the word of God. Obedience is to be learned. Even Jesus learned obedience. Hebrews 5:8 says, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” It is notable that self-control is listed in the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). Self-control is related to self-discipline. 2 Timothy 2;7 says, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” We need to learn obedience through self-control and self-discipline. We should not overlook our disobedience, saying, “It’s okay”, but confront it and repent before God and ask God for his mercy to learn obedience and form the spiritual habit of obedience.

In verse 15, “Then Samuel left Gilgal and went up to Gibeah in Benjamin, and Saul counted the men who were with him. They numbered about six hundred.” Samuel left Gilgal, surely overcoming his human attachment. What did Saul do? He counted the men who were with him. Why? He was still unrepentant. He depended on himself, his army, though it reduced to about six hundred from two thousand.

Second, Jonathan, a man of faith (13:16-14:52). Look at 13:16-17. “Saul and his son Jonathan and the men with them were staying in Gibeah in Benjamin, while the Philistines camped at Micmash. Raiding parties went out from the Philistine camp in three detachments…” Now it seemed that a war was about to break out. And verses 19-22 describes the poor fighting condition of the Israelites, whose soldiers did not even have swords and spears on the day of battle; only Saul and his son Jonathan had them.

Now a detachment of Philistine had gone out to the pass at Micmash. In this situation, one day Johnathan said to the young man bearing his armor, ‘Come, let’s go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side.’ This would be a courageous act when we thought about the fighting condition of Israel and of the Philistines. The Philistines had a distinct military advantage over Israel since they had a monopoly on iron weapons. Humanly speaking, what Jonathan proposed was like a suicidal act. Jonathan did not tell this to his father, for his father Saul would surely refuse such idea, since Saul had no faith. Verse 2 says that Saul was staying on the outskirts of Gibeah under a pomegranate tree in Migron. With him were about six hundred men…” The MSG version reads, “…Saul was taking it easy under the pomegranate tree…” In any case, no one knew that Jonathan had left. In verse 4, “On each side of the pass that Jonathan intended to cross to reach the Philistine outpost was a cliff…” Not only the act itself but also the geographical condition would be hard for Jonathan to go over to the other side.

How did Jonathan proceed? Look at verse 6. “Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, ‘Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving whether by many or by few.’” Here what Jonathan said in this one verses shows what kind of person Jonathan is. We see what the basis of Jonathan’s radical decision is.

First of all, Jonathan had a clear view of the Philistines and of the Israelites as well. The Philistines had the most developed weapons of that day and so they were technologically advanced and powerful people. But to Jonathan they were none other than just bunch of uncircumcised fellows, while the Israelites were chosen circumcised people of God. Jonathan was different from those explorers who went out to spy the land of Canaan and reported, “All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Num 13:32-33). Jonathan was like David, who confronting Goliath said to some Israelites, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” and said to Saul, “Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God” (Sam 17:26, 36). Before God Jonathan had a correct view of the enemy and of himself and his people with a sound pride. Like David, Jonathan put God’s honour first and was ready to fight for the honour of God and his people.

Jonathan said, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost…” Jonathan did not think it was an impossible battle. In that situation he began to think about winning the battle. So he began to do what he could do. He was like Andrew who brought five loaves and two fish to Jesus to feed five thousand people.

And then Jonathan said, “Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf.” This shows that Jonathan was not hurriedly overconfident or overoptimistic, but humbly and prudently was taking a step toward God. The NET version reads, “Perhaps the LORD will intervene for us.”

And then Jonathan said, “Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.” This is a truly amazing declaration of his faith. In these words Jonathan keenly knew that the Philistine solders were so many, as numerous as the sand on the seashore with three thousand chariots and six thousand charioteers, while the Israel army had shrunken to about six hundred from three thousand. Yet, Jonathan said, “Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.” Actually this confession should have been the confession of Saul, who excused human conditions: i.e. that the men were scattering, Samuel had not come at the set time, and the Philistines had assembled and were coming down against him (13:11). But to Jonathan human conditions did not matter at all in the LORD’s saving. No human condition can be a hindrance in the saving work of the LORD. We are hindered and restricted by our human conditions, but not the LORD. And the LORD’s saving solely depends on him, his power. This is an unchanging, fundamental truth of God. This is a constantly repeated teaching of the Bible.

God said to Abraham, who thought Sarah was too old to have a child, “Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son” (Ge 18:14). And it happened as God promised. In Numbers when God told Moses that he would provide meat for six hundred thousand men to eat for a whole month, Moses responded, “Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them” At this the LORD answered, ‘Is the LORD’s arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you” (Num 11:21-23). Indeed what God said came true, to Moses’s amazement. A father of a boy with an evil spirit said to Jesus in deep sorrow and despair, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” At this Jesus responded, “If you can? Everything is possible for him who believes” (Mk 9:23). Jesus rebuked the unbelieving father and healed the son. Jesus did not put any limitation in the world of faith. On another occasion Jesus said to his disciples who seemed to have power problem, “Have faith in God” (Mk 11:23), promising that if they had faith in God, they could move mountains, meaning they could do impossible things with the power of faith. When the brother of Martha and Mary died and was buried in a cave, they were full of sorrow and bitterness and completely forgot the glorious words Jesus had given them, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory…” (Jn 11:4). Then Jesus spoke to them in spiritual anger, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (11:40). And he raised their dead brother Nazareth. God wants us to receive the discipline of faith until we clearly learn the fundamental truth that nothing can hinder the LORD, whether by many or by few. Through our sicknesses and trials in life God wants us to be purer, higher and greater in our faith. The LORD can solve some of our brothers’ and sisters’ marriage problem when they entrust their lives to God, as he did for Ian and Jemmie. The LORD also can help our students for their studied as they seek God’s kingdom first. The LORD can establish 12 house churches by 2020 in U of T campus pioneering work as we solely seek his honour and glory and believe in him. With this direction and prayer, practically we should challenge and attack our opponent. When we raised one house church with the help of God, it was an affront to the fortress of Satan, and could be a stench to Satan. I sense that the battle became fierce. But we believe that our victory is assured in the LORD God.

When Jonathan said, “Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few, he was like David, who said to Goliath, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (1 Sam 17:46). They were friends in honouring God and in the world of faith. There are many kinds of friendship. But may we grow in such a friendship.

When Jonathan told these words to his young armor-bearer, his armor-bearer said, “Do all that you have in mind. Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.” The armor-bearer was a wonderful coworker. Then Jonathan said, “Come, then; we will cross over toward the men and let them see us. If they say to us, ‘Wait there until we come to you, we will stay where we are and not go up to them. But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ we will climb up, because that will be our sign that the LORD has given them into our hands.” Now Jonathan wanted to carry out his faith positively together with his armor-bearer. In carrying out his faith, he was not passive but active, even trying to seek a sign that assured them that the LORD had given them into their hands.

Then they acted it out. The Philistines said, “Look, The Hebrews are crawling out of the holes they were hiding in.” Apparently, they thought Jonathan and his armor-bearer were Israelite deserters coming to the Philistine side. Then the men of the outpost shouted to Jonathan and his armor-bearer, “Come up to us” as Jonathan expected. And then they added, “we’ll teach you a lesson.” In fact they would learn a terrible lesson. At this Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, ‘Climb up after me; the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel.” He was truly fighting for Israel. Then Jonathan climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. We can imagine how difficult it was for Jonathan to climb up the cliff only with his hands and feet without any instruments for climbing. But he did it. After climbing up, he must have been exhausted and vulnerable before the enemies. However, a surprising thing happened. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him. In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre.

God worked further. Panic struck the whole army, and the ground shook. The earth quaked. The earthquake affirms the fact that divine intervention aided Jonathan and his armor-bearer in their raid. The earthquake caused a panic among the Philistines. Indeed it was a panic sent by God. When the tumult in the Philistine camp increased more and more, Saul and all his men assembled and went to the battle. They found the Philistines in total confusion, striking each other with their swords. Those Hebrews who had previously been with the Philistines and had gone up with them to their camp, the deserters, went over to the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. When all the Israelites who had hidden in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were on the run, they joined the battle in hot pursuit. The author commented in verse 23, “So the LORD rescued Israel that day, and the battle moved on beyond Beth Aven.” That one day was a great day, the great day of victory, through Jonathan’s faith.

In verses 24-52 we can further think about Saul. In verse 24, “Now the men of Israel were in distress that day, because Saul had bound the people under an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be any man who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!’ So none of the troops tasted food.” Again, that day was the day of God’s victory and thanksgiving should have been given to God. But strangely that day Saul wanted to have avenged himself on his enemies. How terribly self-centred he was. He made such an odd oath and made the men of Israel distressed. Because of the oath, his army could not even taste honey oozing out of the honeycomb. Jonathan unwittingly tasted the honey. When he came to know the oath, Jonathan could not understand what his father Saul did. Then, a horrible thing came to pass: the soldiers, out of their ravenous hunger, were eating meat with blood. Saul then ordered that everyone bring his ox and slaughter it to eat. And in verse 35, “Then Saul built an altar of the LORD; it was the first time he had done this.” We don’t know what kind of altar it was. Anyway, it was the first and only altar built by Saul mentioned in Scripture. Then Saul said, “Let us go down after the Philistine by night and plunder them till dawn, and let us not leave one of them alive.” He seemed to have zeal, but not for the LORD and his people but for himself. Then the sin of breaking the oath was found, and Jonathan was in a situation to be killed because of Saul’s another reckless words, “As surely as the LORD who rescues Israel lives, even if it lies with my son Jonathan, he must die.” As an encore to his previous oath, Saul followed with another foolish oath, unknowingly jeopardizing his own son’s life. Saul was unsoundly legalistic even to be ready to kill his son, but the people were sound and rescued Jonathan, saying, “Should Jonathan die—he who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Never! As surely as the LORD lives, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground, for he did this today with God’s help.” After this event, Saul stopped pursuing the Philistines, and they withdrew to their own land.

In verses 47 and 48, “After Saul had assumed rule over Israel, he fought against their enemies on every side…Whenever he turned, he inflicted punishment on them. He fought valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, delivering Israel from the hands of those who had plundered them.” Humanly speaking he was a valiant fighter, a man of ability. Saul’s military accomplishments were significant and expanded Israel’s borders in all directions: to the south (Edom), east (Ammon and Moab), north (Zobah), and west (Philistia). The defeat of the Amalekites is recorded in chapter 15. His family line was fine. He seemed to have no problem from human viewpoint. But in verse 52, “All the days of Saul there was bitter war with the Philistines.” The Philistines’ opposition to Israel was persistent and continued to the very last day of Saul’s life (1 Samuel 31:1-3). This was a contrast with 7:13, 14, “Throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines…And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.” Although Saul seemed to be fine in his human life outwardly with even many achievements, he had a serious problem inwardly, especially in relationship with God. In fact he had no faith in God. He did not know the heart of God. So he was terribly self-centred and blindly legalistic, and made his people distressed and troubled.

In this study we may deeply accept the words, “Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few” and put our absolute faith in him that we may be God-centred, obedient, free, confident and challenging impossible situations. May God raise up men of faith like Jonathan in and among us.

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