I Samuel 13–14. Saul Made Mistakes.
Key Notes: Israel was outnumbered and afraid. Jonathan took on an army. Saul fumbled.
After a good beginning, for all his excellent qualities, Saul floundered. Admittedly he had no tradition of state-craft behind him and no advisors with experience, but the problems he faced were simple enough. He was, like all leaders, a representative of his society, reflecting the lack of direction of Israel.
13:1 Saul’s age and years as king are not found in the text. Paul says he ruled for forty year. Acts 13:21
13:2–7 Saul picked a small army of 3,000 men; 2,000 with him, 1,000 with his son, Jonathan. Jonathan defeated the Philistine garrison at Geba. Then Saul called all the Hebrews to Gilgal, near Jericho. but the Philistines mustered 30,000 chariots, 6,000 horsemen plus innumerable troops and camped at Michmash, east of Beth-aven. They had penetrated almost all the way from their bases along the Mediterranean to the Jordan, essentially cutting Israel in half. The Israelis were badly outnumbered; they hid in caves and holes and in rocks, tombs and cisterns, or crossed the fords of the Jordan into Gilead for fear of the Philistines.
13:8–15 Saul waited for Samuel seven days, as Samuel had ordered. (This cannot be the seven days of I Sam. 10:8 for much has happened since.) But with the people scattering, Saul went ahead and offered the burnt offering--just as Samuel came into view. Samuel rebuked him; he had usurped the priest's function. But Saul said he had to do it to win the favor of the Lord before battle. More importantly, he was trying to keep his army from deserting. [He knew someting about warfare, but he had no understanding of God.] Samuel warned him that his kingdom would not be permanent, but God would seek another man to be king.
Comment: Saul's impulsiveness in the face of a Philistine invasion seems like a rather small infraction, too small to cause him to lose the kingdom. However, it is premonitory for other blunders that will ensure a forfeiture of the crown.
13:15–23 Saul now had 20% of his force, about 600 men, left with him. Raiders went out from the Philistine camp in three directions. There were no iron weapons in all of Israel except Saul and Jonathan's. The Philistines had managed to keep a monopoly on blacksmiths and iron weapons. Evidently the Israelites had neither iron to make weapons nor stone to sharpen their implements. They were working with bronze swords and spear-tips.
(See the article on iron implements in the ancient world in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.)
14:1–11 In this grim situation, Jonathan saw opportunity. “Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” Jonathan left Saul at Gibeah under the pomegranate tree, and with his armor-bearer, took on the garrison of the Philistines the second time. They crawled out of a dry gulch up onto the crag on their hands and knees at the invitation of the Philistines.
14:12–23 On level ground, they stood up and spear-headed an attack. They set the enemy into a panic, furthered by an earthquake from God. Saul's watchman saw the movements in the camp of the Philistines. Saul wanted to rally Israel with the Ark and Ahijah the priest, but the tumult increased, so he decided to go ahead without them. Israeli prisoners who were in the camp of the Philistines and all those who had hid themselves came out and joined in the fight.
14:24–35 Saul forbade anyone to eat until he was avenged of his enemies, but the soldiers were exhausted and hungry. Jonathan dipped his staff in honey and ate it, not having heard the curse. The troops slaughtered cattle and ate them with the blood. Saul insisted that they bring the cattle to him for slaughter, and he built an altar to the Lord.
14:36–42 Saul inquired as to whether he should go after the Philistines at night, but there was no answer from God. Then Saul perceived that there was sin in the camp and prayed to God to identify the guilty. Urim and thummin were invoked. Jonathon was singled out.
Urim ("lights") and thummim ("perfection") were articles used by the priest for obtaining yes / no answers from God. They were connected with the breast-plate of the high priest. (Exodus 28:30). What the articles were and how they were used is unknown. Some think they were for casting lots.
14:43–48 Jonathan confessed to eating honey. Saul swore that he must die, but the people refused to let him carry out his senseless oath. Then Saul went on pursuing the Philistines, and they ran.
14:49–52 Saul had two daughters, Michal and Merab, and three sons, Jonathan, Ishvi, and Malchishua.
Overall, Saul was an effective warrior: his military campaigns lagainst Ammonites, Edomites, Zobah, Philistines, and Amalekites were successful. His commander was Abner. He fought the Philistines hard all his life.
1) When faced with a crisis, he usurped the priestly function. He was faced with a deserting army. He tried to hold them together in the only way he knew. To start the battle, he had to conduct worship. God gave him the kingdom, but it was up to him to keep it together, even if he had to disobey God in worship to do it. The same mistake was made by many subsequent kings.
2) Having been discredited, Saul muddled his way through in something of a panic.
a) He tried to bring in the ark up front to attack the Philistines (14:18–19) but could not because of the rising tumult of war.
b) He made an rash oath that anyone would die who ate before the Philistine army was to be destroyed: “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged of my enemies" (14:24).
Starving the troops is not a good decision in a military mission. He acted as if it was his war, although he was the last to get into the battle: “... and I am avenged of my enemies”. Jonathon’s attitude was quite different:
"... nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few." (13:6).
c) The people were eating raw meat, un-bled, and Saul was diligent to stop them. 14:34
In all of this action, Saul was repeatedly discredited; Jonathan said "My father has troubled the land". (14:29) He offered Samuel's sacrifice 13:3–15
God was silent when Saul called for advice. 14:37
He disabled his troups by denying them food. 14:24
The people refused to let Saul kill Jonathan. 14:45
The victory against the Philistines was incomplete. 14:30,46
Saul was behaving like a worldly man in a spiritual situation. The politics of getting along with people, and being a successful warrior were all he really thought about. God was simply a means to an end. God had graciously given him the kingdom, but he would do whatever he could to hold onto it. God was his prop, not his foundation.
We may think of our lives as an attempt to compromise with God by offering him gifts and service but denying Him our allegience and obedience.
"Who Is On The Lord’s Side, who will serve the King?
Who will be His helpers, other lives to bring?
Who will leave the world's side? Who will face the foe?
Who is on the Lord's side? Who for Him will go?
By Thy call of mercy, by Thy grace divine,
We are on the Lord's side, Savior, we are Thine.
(by Frances Havergal in‘77)