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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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Chapter 15
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It will be remembered from our study of the Book of Numbers that the history of Israel's wilderness sojourn, covering a period of about forty years, was extremely abbreviated, with only a few events of that whole period being recorded. We have another example of this same Biblical phenomenon in this chapter, where all of Saul's wars during his forty-year reign are covered in a single short paragraph.

There is a reason for this in both cases. In that of Israel's wanderings, God had rejected that generation, forbidding their entry into Canaan; and for that reason, practically no importance whatever could be attached to whatever they did during the intervening time. For that reason, little was recorded. Even the things which were written about that period, "were written for our examples" (1 Cor. 10:11 ASV), "as a warning ... for our instruction" (RSV), and "for our learning" (Romans 15:4).

Exactly the same thing is true here. The previous chapter revealed that God had rejected Saul's continuing dynasty; and whatever Saul did afterward was of little or no importance whatever, except that in a brief record of his mistakes, the instruction of future generations might be accomplished.

What a commentary lies in these facts for all mankind! Once the destiny of a life has been set by one's decisive behavior, and once the trajectory of his life has been determined, if his life moves firmly in a direction against the will of God, nothing whatever that he may do afterward is of any importance, except in the event of his ultimate repentance and the reversal of his conduct.

As noted above, Saul's wars were very slightly recorded, but there is an exception in the victory against the Philistines revealed in this chapter. Why? The answer lies in the shameful and sinful behavior of Saul which prevented the victory from being complete and which led to a perpetual war with the Philistines all of Saul's life, ending finally in his death on Mount Gilboa.

Philbeck enumerates Saul's sins as: "(1) Entering the battle of Michmash without awaiting divine counsel (1 Samuel 14:19); (2) invoking an egotistical and pagan curse which deprived his army of the necessary food to support their victorious pursuit of the Philistines; (3) causing his army, through fatigue and hunger, to eat meat improperly bled (a violation of God's law); and (4) condemning his son Jonathan to death."F1 The people had sense enough to overrule that last stupid and unjustifiable sin of their king.

It is the record of these sins in the extent that they might instruct all generations of men that justifies the extensive report of events in this chapter.


Verses 1-5
Now it fell 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 yonder side. But he told not his father. And Saul abode in the uttermost part of Gibeah under the pomegranate-tree which is in Migron: and the people that were with him were about six hundred men; and Ahijah, the son of Ahitub, Ichabod's brother, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the priest of Jehovah in Shiloh, wearing an ephod. And the people knew not that Jonathan was gone. And between the passes, by which Jonathan sought to go over unto the Philistines' garrison, there was a rocky crag on the one side, and a rocky crag on the other side: and the name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh. The one crag rose up on the north in front of Michmash, and the other on the south in front of Geba.

He did not tell his father
(1 Samuel 14:1). He probably knew that his father would never approve of such a fool-hardy attempt.

Let us go over to the Philistine garrison
(1 Samuel 14:1). The author interrupted these words of Jonathan to describe the overall situation and scene of the event to be related. Jonathan's words are resumed in 1 Sam. 14:6.

Under the pomegranate tree
(1 Samuel 14:2). The Hebrew word for pomegranate is Rimmon; but there is no doubt that the tree is meant and not the rock Rimmon (Judges 20:45,47).F2 This position of Saul and his men, just north of Gibeah, Was about an hour's march from Geba, where Jonathan was.F3

Abijah. Abimelech
(1 Samuel 14:3). Both of these names apply to the same person, namely, the great-grandson of Eli;F4 and, as Barnes noted, This fragment of a genealogy is a very valuable help in the chronology.F5 However, nothing very exciting is the result of it. Barnes made the deduction from it that, about fifty years had elapsedF6 since the capture of the ark of the covenant by the Philistines; and Willis from the same passage made the deduction that only about thirty yearsF7 had passed, and from this concluding that Saul's reign was about twenty years. To this writer, it appears that the estimate of fifty years is more likely to be correct, because it fits the tradition of Saul's forty-year reign.

A rocky crag. a rocky crag ... Bozez ... Seneh
(1 Samuel 14:4). The southern cliff was Seneh, which means acacia, so named from the trees in the vicinity; and the northern cliff was Bozez, meaning shining.F8

The naming of such landmarks has continued throughout history. The two peaks on opposite sides of the Saginaw river are called Eternity and Trinity.


Verses 6-15
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 Jehovah will work for us; for there is no restraint to Jehovah to save by many or by few. And his armorbearer said unto him, Do all that is in thy heart: turn thee, behold, I am with thee according to thy heart. Then said Jonathan, Behold, we will pass over unto the men, and we will disclose ourselves unto them. 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. But if they say thus, Come up unto us; then we will go up; for Jehovah hath delivered them into our hand: and this shall be the sign unto us. And both of them disclosed 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. And the men of the garrison answered Jonathan and his armorbearer, and said, Come up to us, and we will show you a thing. And Jonathan said unto his armorbearer, Come up after me; for Jehovah hath delivered them into the hand of Israel. 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 them after him. And that first slaughter, which Jonathan and his armorbearer made, was about twenty men, within as it were half a furrow's length in an acre of land. And there was a trembling in the camp, in the field, and among all the people; the garrison, and the spoilers, they also trembled; and the earth quaked: so there was an exceeding great trembling.

Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few
(1 Samuel 14:6). The remarkable faith of Jonathan is evident throughout this chapter. Some have supposed that he might have been inspired by the Spirit of God which is not at all unlikely.

If they say, `Come up to us,' then we will go up (1 Samuel 14:8). Keil explained this sign as indicating cowardice on the part of the garrison;F9 but it seems to this writer that the sign might have been altogether an arbitrary one revealed to Jonathan by the Lord. The garrison might have thought the two men were defectors to their side, or that it was beneath the dignity of the whole garrison to go after only two opponents.

Hebrews are coming out of holes where they have hid themselves
(1 Samuel 14:11). H. P. Smith wrote that, This expression does not necessarily presuppose the account in 1 Sam. 13:6;F10 but, of course, that is exactly what it does presuppose.

And they fell before Jonathan
(1 Samuel 14:13). The amazing success of this attack was due to its utter surprise.F11 Another similar historical victory achieved by scaling what was thought to be an impossible place of ascent is that of General James Wolfe who scaled the bluff along the St. Lawrence river below Quebec on the night of Sept. 13, 1759, and on the following morning surprised and defeated the Marquis de Montcalm; and the continent of North America went over to the British!F12 However, in Jonathan's victory, the surprise was only the human side of it; there was also a timely earthquake (1 Samuel 14:15) that completely finished all resistance by the Philistines.

As it were half a furrow's length in an acre of land
(1 Samuel 14:14). Keil calculated this measurement to be about the same as a rod,F13 which is the equivalent of five and one half yards, sixteen and one half feet, or 5.02 meters.

The earth quaked
(1 Samuel 14:15). Some scholars have supposed this 'quake' to have been a reference to the earth-shaking stampede of the Philistines, but we believe the opinion of scholars such as H. P. Smith and John Willis is correct. God intervened in Israel's behalf by causing an earthquake.F14


Verses 16-23
And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked; and, behold, the multitude melted away, and they went [hither] and thither. 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. And Saul said unto Ahijah, Bring hither the ark of God. For the ark of God was [there] at that time with the children of Israel. And it came to pass, while Saul talked unto the priest, that the tumult that was in the camp of the Philistines went on and increased: and Saul said unto the priest, Withdraw thy hand. And Saul and all the people that were with him were gathered together, and came to the battle: and, behold, every man's sword was against his fellow, [and there was] a very great discomfiture. Now the Hebrews that were with the Philistines as beforetime, and that 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. Likewise all the men of Israel that had hid themselves in the hill-country of Ephraim, when they heard that the Philistines fled, even they also followed hard after them in the battle. So Jehovah saved Israel that day: and the battle passed over by Beth-aven.

Bring hither the ark of God
(1 Samuel 14:18). The Septuagint (LXX) in this place reads the ephod instead of the the ark of God, and some scholars prefer that reading. It appears to us that Willis is correct in his observation that, Saul's bringing the ark from Kiriath-jearim to Gibeah in a time of crisis is no more out of harmony with the statements in 1 Sam. 7:2 and in 2 Sam. 6:2 than David's taking the ark out of the tent he had made for it (2 Samuel 6:17), so that it could accompany Joab and his army in the siege and conquest of Rabbah (2 Samuel 11:11).F15

Withdraw your hand
(1 Samuel 14:19). Saul was here in the process of making an inquiry of the divine will; but he rashly decided that he did not need any word from God, rallied his troops and joined the battle. Had he now waited, he doubtless would have avoided the errors into which he promptly fell.F16

The Hebrews who had been with the Philistines
(1 Samuel 14:21). When the Israelites forsook Saul and left him with only 600 men, this verse indicates that large numbers of them had joined the Philistines; but when it was evident that Israel was winning a great victory, they promptly changed sides again and turned against the Philistines. Also, all of those Israelites who had been hiding in the holes, caves, cisterns, etc., poured out of their hiding places and joined in the pursuit of the enemy.

The battle passed beyond Bethaven
(1 Samuel 14:23). Perhaps due to uncertainties in the text, some scholars would change the name of this place; but Porter stated that, Some prefer Beth-horon or Bethel, but certainty is impossible.F17


Verses 24-30
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 it be evening, and I be avenged on mine enemies. So none of the people tasted food. And all the people came into the forest; and there was honey upon the ground. And when the people were come unto the forest, behold, the honey dropped: but no man put his hand to his mouth; for the people feared the oath. 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 the honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his eyes were enlightened. Then answered one of the people, and said, Thy father straitly charged the people with an oath, saying, Cursed be the man that eateth food this day. And the people were faint. 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. How much more, if haply the people had eaten freely to-day of the spoil of their enemies which they found? for now hath there been no great slaughter among the Philistines.

Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on mine enemies
(1 Samuel 14:24). The will of God and God's honor were of no concern of Saul in this pagan oath, Note the egotism: and I am avenged on my enemies. In this abbreviated account, not all of the oath was repeated. One finds the rest of it in 1 Sam. 14:44, God do so to me and more also, you shall surely die. One finds the exact words of this oath on the lips of the pagan Jezebel (1 Kings 19:2); and Jezebel herself couldn't have said it any better than Saul did.

In this connection, we cannot understand how any scholar could write that, "So far from Saul's oath being, rash, ill-advised or arbitrary, it was the logical expression of his carefulness for divine things."F18

The honey was dropping
(1 Samuel 14:26). This does not mean that the honey was dropping out of the trees, but that it was being dropped by the Philistines in their headlong flight, as explained by the words, the spoil of their enemies which they (the Israelites) found (1 Samuel 14:30).

And his eyes became bright
(1 Samuel 14:27). This is a Hebrew idiom that simply means `he was refreshed.'F19

The direct results of Saul's stupid pagan oath was that his men became fatigued, and from hunger were unable to exploit the opportunity to destroy the Philistines. The great majority of them escaped (1 Samuel 14:30). Also, when the evening finally came, and the curse was lifted, the people were so hungry that they slaughtered animals for meat but did not take time to bleed it perfectly as God's law commanded, consequently bringing the whole army into sin against God. No greater disaster for Israel could be imagined. Then, in addition to all that, Saul found himself compelled to condemn Jonathan to death.


Verses 31-35
And they smote of the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon. And the people were very faint; 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. Then they told Saul, saying, Behold, the people sin against Jehovah, in that they eat with the blood. And he said, ye have dealt treacherously: roll a great stone unto me this day. 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 Jehovah in eating with the blood. And all the people brought every man his ox with him that night, and slew them there. And Saul built an altar unto Jehovah: the same was the first altar that he built unto Jehovah.

From Michmash to Aijalon
(1 Samuel 14:31). Aijalon was fifteen or twenty miles from Michmash.F20 The Philistines, of course, were fleeing home as fast as possible; and, if the Israelites had not been suffering from hunger and fatigue the Philistine casualties would have been far greater.

Let every man bring his ox or his sheep, and slay them here, and eat
(1 Samuel 14:34). The purpose of Saul here was to see that the animals to be eaten by his troops were properly bled.

And Saul built an altar
(1 Samuel 14:35). Saul evidently used that great stone upon which the animals were slain as part of an altar to the Lord. However, He only began to build that altar, but did not finish it (1 Corinthians 27:24), because of his haste to pursue the Philistines that night.F21


Verses 36-42
And Saul said, Let us go down after the Philistines by night, and take spoil among 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. 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. And Saul said, Draw nigh hither, all ye chiefs of the people; and know and see wherein this sin hath been this day. For, as Jehovah liveth, who 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. 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. Therefore Saul said unto Jehovah, the God of Israel, Show the right. And Jonathan and Saul were taken [by lot]; but the people escaped. And Saul said, Cast [lots] between me and Jonathan my son. And Jonathan was taken.

This would have been an excellent place for Saul to have confessed his foolish sin in the invocation of that pagan oath and have asked the forgiveness of all the people; but instead, he decided to pursue the matter to its bloody end.

Urim. Thummim
(1 Samuel 14:41). The Urim and Thummim are specifically mentioned only eight times in the O.T.: Exo. 28:30; Lev. 8:8; Num. 27:21; Deut. 33:8; 1 Sam. 14:41 (LXX); 28:6; Ezra 2:63 and Nehemiah 7:65.F22 However, in many other situations described as casting lots, or inquiring of the Lord, they were doubtless used by the High Priest who wore the ephod.


Verses 43-46
Then Saul said to Jonathan, Tell me what thou hast done. And Jonathan told him, and said, I did certainly taste a little honey with the end of the rod that was in my hand; and, lo, I must die. And Saul said, God do so and more also; for thou shalt surely die, Jonathan. And the people said unto Saul, Shall Jonathan die, who hath wrought this great salvation in Israel? Far from it: as Jehovah 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. Then Saul went up from following the Philistines; and the Philistines went to their own place.

Here I am, I will die
(1 Samuel 14:43). Josephus wrote that Jonathan also said:

"I do not desire you, father, to spare me. Death will be to me very acceptable, when it proceeds from thy piety, and after a glorious victory; for it is the greatest consolation to me that I leave the Hebrews victorious over the Philistines."F23

God do so to me and more also
(1 Samuel 14:44). We have already noted the pagan nature of this godless oath which so effectively marred and nullified what would have been the greatest victory in Israel's history. To us it appears that there is no possible justification for Saul's disastrous oath. These words perfectly fit the pagan mouth of Jezebel, but had no place whatever in the mouth of The Lord's Anointed!

"Saul's oath did not proceeds from a proper attitude toward the Lord but was an act of false zeal in which Saul had more regard to himself than to the cause of the kingdom of God ... Saul issued that prohibition (in the oath) without divine authority ... And when the people pronounced Jonathan innocent and ransomed him, declaring that "Jonathan had wrought with God," it was a divine verdict. Saul could not have failed to recognize then, that it was not Jonathan but he himself who had sinned, and through his arbitrary and despotic command had brought guilt upon Israel, on account of which God had given him no reply."F24

Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines; and the Philistines went to their own place
(1 Samuel 14:46). It appears from this that Saul at last recognized himself as the chief sinner in that episode, and he therefore gave up the pursuit of the Philistines. In the words of Jonathan, My father (Saul) has troubled the land (1 Samuel 14:29).


Verses 47, 48
Now when Saul had taken the kingdom over Israel, he 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 put [them] to the worse. And he did valiantly, and smote the Amalekites, and delivered Israel out of the hands of them that despoiled them.

The chronology of events mentioned in this chapter is impossible of any adequate solution. This little paragraph is a summary of Saul's forty years of fighting against Israel's enemies. If every event in that period had been described as fully as that episode just mentioned, it would have required thousands of pages. It was only the special moral, religious, and theological implications that led to the more complete details in this and in the following chapters.

The inspired author here freely admitted Saul's ability as a "valiant" soldier and his ability to defeat God's enemies. Thus, the reason assigned by the Lord in his appointment of Saul to deliver the people from the Philistines was indeed a good one.


Verses 49-51
Now the sons of Saul were Jonathan, and Ishvi, and Malchishua; and the names of his two daughters were these: the name of the first-born Merab, and the name of the younger Michal: 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. And Kish was the father of Saul; and Ner the father of Abner was the son of Abiel.

As cited earlier in this chapter, the omission of the name of Isbosheth, or Eshbaal, from this list of Saul's children is probably due to the fact that this list was written very early in Saul's reign, before Eshbaal was born. Abner made Eshbaal king over part of Israel following Saul's death; and he contested with David for the throne of all Israel for a period of seven years. The significant fact (2 Samuel 2:8-11) of Eshbaal being forty years of age when he was declared king is the basis for concluding that Saul reigned forty years. The theory that Ishvi is the same son as Eshbaal is an ingenious device to avoid the deduction regarding the length of Saul's reign.

Verse 52
And there was sore war against the Philistines all the days of Saul: and when Saul saw any mighty man, or any valiant man, he took him unto him.

The Bible does not say that this continual war between Israel and the Philistines was due to events recorded in this chapter, but the appearance of this verse just here surely suggests that very thing. Furthermore, it was in a battle with the Philistines that Saul lost his life, ending his reign.

Footnotes for 1 Samuel 14
1: The Teachers' Bible Commentary, p. 171.
2: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 4b, p. 243.
3: Albert Barnes, Samuel, p. 33. (F. C. Cook is the writer of the commentary on this book, and our references to Barnes' Notes should be so understood).
4: John T. Willis, p. 141.
5: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 33.
6: Ibid.
7: John T. Willis, p. 140.
8: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 33.
9: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 2b, p. 138.
10: International Critical Commentary, Samuel, p. 287.
11: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 294
12: Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 23, p. 698.
13: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, op. cit., p. 139.
14: John T. Willis, p. 142.
15: Ibid., p. 143.
16: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 34.
17: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 393.
18: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 114.
19: John T. Willis, p. 144.
20: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 35.
21: Ibid.
22: John T. Willis, p. 147.
23: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, p. 182.
24: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, op. cit., pp. 142, 147.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 14". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  


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