Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
1. the Philistines' garrison--"the standing camp"
Margin) "in the passage of Michmash"
now Wady Es-Suweinit. "It begins in the neighborhood of Betin (Beth-el)
and El-Bireh (Beetroth), and as it breaks through the ridge below these
places, its sides form precipitous walls. On the right, about a quarter
of an acre below, it again breaks off, and passes between high
perpendicular precipices" [ROBINSON].
2. Saul tarried in the uttermost part of Gibeah--Hebrew, "Geba";
entrenched, along with Samuel and Ahiah the high priest, on the top of
one of the conical or spherical hills which abound in the Benjamite
territory, and favorable for an encampment, called Migron ("a
4. between the passages--that is, the deep and great ravine of
Jonathan sought to go over unto the Philistines' garrison--a distance
of about three miles running between two jagged points; Hebrew, "teeth
of the cliff."
there was a sharp rock on the one side, and a sharp rock on the other
side . . . Bozez--("shining") from the aspect of the chalky rock.
Seneh--("the thorn") probably from a solitary acacia on its top. They
are the only rocks of the kind in this vicinity; and the top of the crag
towards Michmash was occupied as the post of the Philistines. The two
camps were in sight of each other; and it was up the steep rocky sides
of this isolated eminence that Jonathan and his armorbearer
made their adventurous approach. This enterprise is one of the most
gallant that history or romance records. The action, viewed in itself,
was rash and contrary to all established rules of military discipline,
which do not permit soldiers to fight or to undertake any enterprise
that may involve important consequences without the order of the
6. it may be that the Lord will work for us--This expression did not
imply a doubt; it signified simply that the object he aimed at was not
in his own power--but it depended upon God--and that he expected
success neither from his own strength nor his own merit.
9, 10. if they say, Come up unto us; then we will go up: for the Lord
hath delivered them into our hand--When Jonathan appears here to
prescribe a sign or token of God's will, we may infer that the same
spirit which inspired this enterprise suggested the means of its
execution, and put into his heart what to ask of God.
11. Behold, the Hebrews come forth out of the holes--As it could not
occur to the sentries that two men had come with hostile designs, it
was a natural conclusion that they were Israelite deserters. And hence
no attempt was made to hinder their ascent, or stone them.
14, 15. that first slaughter, which Jonathan and his armour-bearer
made, was about twenty men, within as it were an half acre of land,
which a yoke of oxen might plow--This was a very ancient mode of
measurement, and it still subsists in the East. The men who saw them
scrambling up the rock had been surprised and killed, and the spectacle
of twenty corpses would suggest to others that they were attacked by a
numerous force. The success of the adventure was aided by a panic that
struck the enemy, produced both by the sudden surprise and the shock of
an earthquake. The feat was begun and achieved by the faith of
Jonathan, and the issue was of God.
16. the watchmen of Saul . . . looked--The wild disorder in the
enemies' camp was described and the noise of dismay heard on the heights
17-19. Then said Saul unto the people that were with him, Number
now, and see who is gone from us--The idea occurred to him that it
might be some daring adventurer belonging to his own little troop, and
it would be easy to discover him.
18. Saul said unto Ahiah, Bring hither the ark of God--There is no
evidence that the ark had been brought from Kirjath-jearim. The
Septuagint version is preferable; which, by a slight variation of
the text, reads, "the ephod"; that is, the priestly cape, which the
high priest put on when consulting the oracle. That this should be at
hand is natural, from the presence of Ahiah himself, as well as the
nearness of Nob, where the tabernacle was then situated.
19. Withdraw thine hand--The priest, invested with the ephod, prayed
with raised and extended hands. Saul perceiving that the opportunity
was inviting, and that God appeared to have sufficiently declared in
favor of His people, requested the priest to cease, that they might
immediately join in the contest. The season for consultation was
past--the time for prompt action was come.
20-22. Saul and all the people--All the warriors in the garrison at
Gibeah, the Israelite deserters in the camp of the Philistines, and the
fugitives among the mountains of Ephraim, now all rushed to the
pursuit, which was hot and sanguinary.
23. So the Lord saved Israel that day: and the battle passed over
unto Beth-aven--that is, "Beth-el." It passed over the forest, now
destroyed, on the central ridge of Palestine, then over to the other
side from the eastern pass of Michmash
to the western pass of Aijalon, through which they escaped into their
24. Saul had adjured the people--Afraid lest so precious an opportunity
of effectually humbling the Philistine power might be lost, the
impetuous king laid an anathema on any one who should taste food until
the evening. This rash and foolish denunciation distressed the people,
by preventing them taking such refreshments as they might get on the
march, and materially hindered the successful attainment of his own
25. all they of the land came to a wood; and there was honey--The honey
is described as "upon the ground," "dropping" from the trees, and in
honeycombs--indicating it to be bees' honey. "Bees in the East are not,
as in England, kept in hives; they are all in a wild state. The forests
literally flow with honey; large combs may be seen hanging on the trees
as you pass along, full of honey" [ROBERTS].
31-34. the people were very faint. And the people flew upon the
spoil--at evening, when the time fixed by Saul had expired. Faint
and famishing, the pursuers fell voraciously upon the cattle they had
taken, and threw them on the ground to cut off their flesh and eat them
raw, so that the army, by Saul's rashness, were defiled by eating
blood, or living animals; probably, as the Abyssinians do, who cut a
part of the animal's rump, but close the hide upon it, and nothing
mortal follows from that wound. They were painfully conscientious in
keeping the king's order for fear of the curse, but had no scruple in
transgressing God's command. To prevent this violation of the law, Saul
ordered a large stone to be rolled, and those that slaughtered the oxen
to cut their throats on that stone. By laying the animal's head on the
high stone, the blood oozed out on the ground, and sufficient evidence
was afforded that the ox or sheep was dead before it was attempted to
45. the people rescued Jonathan, that he died not--When Saul became
aware of Jonathan's transgression in regard to the honey, albeit it was
done in ignorance and involved no guilt, he was, like Jephthah
[Jud 11:31, 35],
about to put his son to death, in conformity with his vow
But the more enlightened conscience of the army prevented the
tarnishing the glory of the day by the blood of the young hero, to
whose faith and valor it was chiefly due.
47, 48. So Saul . . . fought against all his enemies on every
side--This signal triumph over the Philistines was followed, not
only by their expulsion from the land of Israel, but by successful
incursions against various hostile neighbors, whom he harassed though
he did not subdue them.