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Jonathan and his armor-bearer purpose to attack a garrison of the Philistines, 1 Samuel 14:1. Saul and his army, with Ahiah the priest, tarry in Gibeah, 1 Samuel 14:2, 1 Samuel 14:3. Jonathan plans his attack of the Philistine garrison, 1 Samuel 14:4-10. He and his armor-bearer climb over a rock: attack and rout the garrison, 1 Samuel 14:11-15. Saul and has company, seeing confusion on the Philistine host, come out against them; as did the men who had hidden themselves; and the Philistines are defeated, 1 Samuel 14:16-23. Saul lays every man under a curse who shall eat food until the evening; in consequence of which the people are sorely distressed, 1 Samuel 14:24-26. Jonathan, not hearing the adjuration, eats a little honey, which he found on the ground, 1 Samuel 14:27-30. The Philistines being defeated, the people seize on the spoil, and begin to eat flesh without previously bleeding the animals, which Saul endeavors to prevent, 1 Samuel 14:31-34. He builds an altar there, 1 Samuel 14:35. Inquires of the Lord if he may pursue the Philistines by night, but receives no answer, 1 Samuel 14:36, 1 Samuel 14:37. Attributes this to some sin committed by some unknown person: makes inquiry by lot; and finds that Jonathan had tasted the honey, on which he purposes to put him to death, 1 Samuel 14:38-44. The people interpose, and rescue Jonathan, 1 Samuel 14:45. Saul fights against the Moabites, Ammonites, and Amalekites, 1 Samuel 14:46-48. An account of the family of Saul, 1 Samuel 14:49-52.
Come, and let us go over - This action of Jonathan was totally contrary to the laws of war; no military operation should be undertaken without the knowledge and command of the general. But it is likely that he was led to this by a Divine influence.
The armor-bearer is the origin of what we call esquire, from escu, old French, a shield; armiger is the Latin, from arma, weapons, and gero, I bear. In the times of chivalry, the armiger, or esquire, was the servant of the knight who went after him, and carried his lance, shield, etc. It is now (strange to tell!) a title of honor.
Under a pomegranate tree - Under Rimmon, which not only signifies a pomegranate tree, but also a strong rock, in which six hundred Benjamites took shelter, Judges 20:45. Probably it was in this very rock that Saul and his six hundred men now lay hidden.
Ahiah, the son of Ahitub - Phinehas, son of Eli the high priests had two sons, Ahitub and I-chabod; the latter was born when the ark was taken, and his mother died immediately after. Ahiah is also called Ahimelech, 1 Samuel 22:9.
Wearing an ephod - That is, performing the functions of the high priest. This man does not appear to have been with Saul when he offered the sacrifices, 1 Samuel 13:9, etc.
The name of the one was Bozez - Slippery; and the name of the other Seneh, treading down. - Targum.
Let us go over - Moved, doubtless, by a Divine impulse.
There is no restraint to the Lord - This is a fine sentiment; and where there is a promise of defense and support, the weakest, in the face of the strongest enemy, may rely on it with the utmost confidence.
Behold, I am with thee - I shall accompany thee whithersoever thou goest, and share all thy dangers.
If they say thus unto us - Jonathan had no doubt asked this as a sign from God; exactly as Eliezer the servant of Abraham did, Genesis 24:12.
Come up to us, and we will show you a thing - This was the favorable sign which Jonathan had requested. The Philistines seem to have meant, Come, and we will show you how well fortified we are, and how able to quell all the attacks of your countrymen.
Jonathan climbed up - It seems he had a part of the rock still to get over. When he got over he began to slay the guards, which were about twenty in number, these were of a sort of outpost or advanced guard to the garrison.
Slew after him - Jonathan knocked them down, and the armor-bearer despatched them. This seems to be the meaning.
A half acre of land - The ancients measured land by the quantum which a yoke of oxen could plough in a day. The original is obscure, and is variously understood. It is probably a proverbial expression for a very small space.
There was trembling in the host - They were terrified and panic-struck; the people in general round about, those in the garrison, the spoilers, and the whole country, were struck with terror; the commotion was universal and most extraordinary. The trembling of the earth is probably not to be taken literally, but as a metaphor for a great commotion in the country, though God might have interposed in an extraordinary manner, and produced a real earthquake; but their being panic-struck was sufficient to produce all the requisite confusion and dismay.
The watchmen of Saul - Those who were sent out as scouts to observe the motions of the army.
Melted away - There was no order in the Philistine camp, and the people were dispersing in all directions. The Vulgate has, Et ecce multitudo prostrata, “And behold the multitude were prostrate;” many lay dead upon the field, partly by the sword of Jonathan and his armor-bearer, and partly by the swords of each other, 1 Samuel 14:20.
Number now - Saul perceived that the Philistines were routed, but could not tell by what means; supposing that it must be by some of his own troops, he called a muster to see who and how many were absent.
Bring hither the ark of God - He wished to inquire what use he should make of the present favorable circumstances, and to proceed in the business as God should direct.
While Saul talked unto the priest - Before he had made an end of consulting him, the increasing noise of the panic-struck Philistines called his attention; and finding there was no time to lose, he immediately collected his men and fell on them.
The Hebrews that were with the Philistines - We may understand such as they held in bondage, or who were their servants. Instead of Hebrews the Septuagint read, οἱ δουλοι , the slaves; from which it is evident that, instead of עברים (Ibrim), Hebrews, they found in their text עבדים (abadim), servants. But this reading is not countenanced by any other version, nor by any MS. yet discovered.
The men - which had hid themselves - See 1 Samuel 13:6.
The Vulgate and the Septuagint add here, And there were with Saul about ten thousand men; but this is supported by no other authority.
Saul had adjured the people - He was afraid, if they waited to refresh themselves, the Philistines would escape out of their hands, and therefore he made the taking any food till sunset a capital crime. This was the very means of defeating his own intention; for as the people were exhausted for want of food, they could not continue the pursuit of their enemies: had it not been for this foolish adjuration, there had been a greater slaughter of the Philistines, 1 Samuel 14:30.
There was honey upon the ground - There were many wild bees in that country, and Judea is expressly said to be a land flowing with milk and honey.
The honey dropped - It seems to have dropped from the trees on the ground. Honey dews, as they are called, are not uncommon in most countries; and this appears to have been something of this kind. I have seen honey in considerable quantity on the trees and long grass in the fields, and have often eaten of it.
His eyes were enlightened - Hunger and fatigue affect and dim the sight; on taking food, this affection is immediately removed. This most people know to be a fact.
They smote the Philistines - from Mishmash to Aijalon - The distance Calmet states to be three or four leagues.
The people did eat them with the blood - They were faint through hunger, and did not take time to bleed the cattle on which they fed. This was another bad effect of Saul‘s rash adjuration.
Roll a great stone unto me - Probably this means that they should set up an altar to the Lord, on which the animals might be properly slain, and the blood poured out upon the earth; and a large stone was erected for an altar.
Saul built an altar - And this we are informed was the first he had built; Samuel, as prophet had hitherto erected the altars, and Saul thought he had sufficient authority to erect one himself without the prophet, as he once offered sacrifice without him.
Then said the priest - It is evident that Ahiah doubted the propriety of pursuing the Philistines that night; and as a reverse of fortune might be ruinous after such a victory, he wished to have specific directions from the Lord.
He answered him not that day - Why was this answer delayed? Surely Jonathan‘s eating the honey was no sin. This could not have excited God‘s displeasure. And yet the lot found out Jonathan! But did this argue that he had incurred guilt in the sight of God? I answer: It did not; for Jonathan was delivered, by the authority of the people, from his father‘s rash curse; no propitiation is offered for his supposed transgression to induce God to pardon it; nor do we find any displeasure of God manifested on the occasion. See below.
Lord God of Israel, Give a perfect lot - Both the Vulgate and Septuagint add much to this verse: And Saul said to the Lord God of Israel, Lord God of Israel, give judgment. Why is it that thou hast not answered thy servant to-day? If the iniquity be in me, or Jonathan my son, make it manifest. Or if this iniquity be in thy people, give sanctification.
And Jonathan was taken - The object of the inquiry most evidently was, “Who has gone contrary to the king‘s adjuration today?” The answer to that must be Jonathan. But was this a proof of the Divine displeasure against the man? By no means: the holy oracle told the truth, but neither that oracle nor the God who gave it fixed any blame upon Jonathan, and his own conscience acquits him. He seeks not pardon from God, because he is conscious he had not transgressed. But why did not God answer the priest that day? Because he did not think it proper to send the people by night in pursuit of the vanquished Philistines. Saul‘s motive was perfectly vindictive: Let us go down after the Philistines by night, and spoil them unto the morning light, and let us not leave a man of them; that is, Let us burn, waste, destroy, and slay all before us! Was it right to indulge a disposition of this kind, which would have led to the destruction of many innocent country people, and of many Israelites who resided among the Philistines? Besides, was there not a most manifest reason in the people why God could not be among them? Multitudes of them were defiled in a very solemn manner; they had eaten the flesh with the blood; and however sacrifices might be offered to atone for this transgression of the law, they must continue unclean till the evening. Here were reasons enough why God would not go on with the people for that night.
And Saul answered - thou shalt surely die, Jonathan - To save thy rash oath! So must John Baptist‘s head be taken off at the desire of an impure woman, because a Herod had sworn to give her whatever she might request! Unfeeling brute! However, the king was Judge. But what said the people, who were the Jury?
And the people said - “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.” Here was a righteous and impartial jury, who brought in a verdict according to the evidence: No man should die but for a breach of the law of God; but Jonathan hath not broken any law of God; therefore Jonathan should not die. And because he should not, therefore he shall not.
He hath wrought with God this day - God has been commander-in-chief; Jonathan has acted under his directions.
So the people rescued Jonathan - And God testified no displeasure; and perhaps he permitted all this that he might correct Saul‘s propensity to rashness and precipitancy.
So Saul took the kingdom - The Targum appears to give the meaning of this expression: “Saul prospered in his government over Israel.” And the proofs of his prosperity are immediately subjoined.
Fought against all his enemies - Of the wars which are mentioned here we have no particulars; they must have endured a long time, and have been, at least in general, successful.
Smote the Amalekites - This war is mentioned in the following chapter.
Now the sons of Saul - We do not find Ishbosheth here. Calmet says it was “because he was too young, and did not go with him to the war, for he mentions only those who were with him.” Why then mention his daughters and his wife? Did they go with him to the war?
When Saul saw any strong man - This was very politic. He thus continued to recruit his army with strong and effective men.