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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

1 Samuel 13

 

 

Introduction

SECTION 2. The Rise and Fall of Saul. Saul Having Been Anointed As King, The Reasons For His Downfall Are Now Described, Along With His First Major Defeat Of The Philistines And His Defeat Of The Amalekites. This Is Accompanied By A Brief Reference To His Wider Successes (13:1-15:35).

This section opens and close with examples of how as Saul becomes established he becomes lax in respect of his obedience towards YHWH, resulting first in the loss of his dynasty (1 Samuel 13:1-18), and then in the loss of his kingship (1 Samuel 15:1-35). In between these two incidents are a record of his victories (1 Samuel 13:19 to 1 Samuel 14:23 a; 14:47-52) and indications of Saul’s increasing spiritual failure. We can analyse this section as follows:

a Saul disobeys YHWH and does not wait for His advice through Samuel. His dynasty are rejected from the kingship (1 Samuel 13:1-18).

b Jonathan and YHWH deliver Israel (1 Samuel 13:19 to 1 Samuel 14:23 a).

c Saul makes a rash oath and Jonathan unknowingly breaks it and becomes liable to sentence (1 Samuel 14:23-31 a).

d As a result of Saul’s rash oath his men eat animals with their blood resulting in Saul building his ‘first altar’ (1 Samuel 14:31-35).

c Saul consult the oracle over his rash oath and Jonathan is sentenced to death, but the people will not allow it (1 Samuel 14:36-46).

b Saul and Abner deliver Israel (1 Samuel 14:47-52).

a Saul disobeys YHWH and preserves for himself and the people what is ‘devoted’ to YHWH. He is rejected from the kingship (1 Samuel 15:1-35).

Chapter 13.

This chapter begins with the regular statement concerning the age of the king on his accession, and the length of time that he reigned, which will become a pattern on through Samuel and Kings (compare for example 2 Samuel 5:4; 1 Kings 14:21; etc) although in Kings in a more formal way, including the name of the queen mother. It thus indicates the commencement of a new section of Samuel. This section will the go on to deal with a number of aspects of Saul’s reign, and will especially emphasise the basic reason for the failure of his kingship. It would, however, be a mistake to see what follows as being ‘a history of Saul’. The writer is in fact not really interested in Saul’s achievements accomplished during the first part of his reign (which he briefly summarises in 1 Samuel 14:47-52), but rather in his subsequent downward fall following on from those achievements. This occurs in two stages:

1). As a result of his initial disobedience in relation to Samuel when he fails to wait for him to bring YHWH’s word as to how he is to act to save Israel. The result is that he loses the right for his sons to be his heirs, and is initially partially parted from Samuel’s prophetic influence (1 Samuel 13-14).

2). As a result of his being finally rejected by YHWH himself for his even greater disobedience which is directed directly against YHWH (1 Samuel 15) when he fails to fully ‘devote’ to YHWH what is His. The result is that the Spirit departs from him and that Samuel ‘sees his face no more’. The chapters that follow will then demonstrate that the mantle of ‘Saviour of the people through the power of YHWH’ passes to one who is more worthy (1 Samuel 16-18).

1 Samuel 13-14 in fact bring out that he has separated himself from Samuel’s prophetic influence in a number of ways:

1). Saul fails to wait for Samuel to arrive to complete the necessary preparation which will ensure YHWH’s assistance in defeating the enemy (1 Samuel 13:8-14).

2). Samuel departs from him leaving him to fight his battles alone without Samuel’s assistance, although his moving to Gibeah demonstrates that he has not put himself beyond reach (1 Samuel 13:15).

3). Saul puts new reliance on the failed Priesthood of the house of Eli (1 Samuel 14:2).

4). Saul makes a vain attempt to call on the Ark of God for assistance 1sa (1 Samuel 14:18).

5). Saul makes a foolish oath in pursuit of his own desire for vengeance (1 Samuel 14:24) which hinders his army and nearly results in the death of the very man of faith (Jonathan) through whom God has chosen to work (1 Samuel 14:1-15; 1 Samuel 14:44-46).

6). Saul fails to follow through the victory over the Philistines as a result of placing his dependence on the advice of the priesthood of the house of Eli (1 Samuel 14:36-38). Samuel could have told him immediately what to do.

He is thus depicted as having failed to fulfil the exhortations made by Samuel in 12:20-25, compare 1 Samuel 13:13, and as a result, as being unworthy of kingship. We must, however, question very strongly whether we are intended to see these incidents as occurring immediately following Saul’s accession, even though at first sight it might appear so simply because of the cursory way in which Saul’s early achievements are dealt with. Those achievements are dealt with in 1 Samuel 14:47 and suggest that his reign commenced well, with Saul being victorious over many of Israel’s enemies (1 Samuel 14:47). It is however, clear from 1 Samuel 13:19-23 that the one enemy that he was finding it difficult to cope with was the Philistines, for it appears that during the early part of his reign they had occupied the Israelite lowlands and had even placed garrisons in the hill country (1 Samuel 13:3), with the result that they were able to keep a good part of Israel in subservience. That being so 1 Samuel 13 would appear to be describing events which occurred some years into his reign when he considered that the time had come to make a bid for freedom. Prior to that it would seem that he had simply been conducting a rearguard action in order to prevent their further advancement.

The Timing Of Chapters 13-14.

The fact that Jonathan, Saul’s son, is of an age to take control of a military unit in 1 Samuel 13:2 is one indication that what is being described in detail in these chapters did not take place at the commencement of Saul’s reign. Had it been so it would mean that Saul was around forty when he met Samuel and was anointed (to allow for him having a son aged over twenty, the age of military call-up), and thus nearly eighty when he died (Acts 13:21 confirms that he reigned about forty years). Neither age fits in with the picture that we have in 1 Samuel 9, 1 Samuel 10 and 1 Samuel 31. That being so the main purpose of 1 Samuel 13 is seemingly in order to indicate when Saul took his first major step downwards as a result of failing strictly to fulfil YHWH’s requirements, simply because he had by then become too filled with a sense of his own importance. This is confirmed, as we have seen, by the fact that there must have been quite a period preceding these events during which he had tried and failed to succeed against the Philistine threat, for it is clear that some parts of Israel were at this time so subject to Philistine oppression that it resulted in their not being allowed to have their own smiths in order to fashion and sharpen their own tools (1 Samuel 13:19-23). It is unlikely that this latter period refers to the time of Samuel’s judgeship because we have already been informed that the Philistines came no more within the borders of Israel during that period (1 Samuel 7:13), and we have no real reason to doubt the truth of that statement. The writer would hardly have included that statement and then have contradicted it. Thus it points to the fact that what is described in 1 Samuel 13:19-23 refers to the situation applying during the early part of Saul’s reign, with the consequence that the main part of 1 Samuel 13 comes some years into Saul’s reign. This is also confirmed by what we know of the length of Saul’s reign.

So for example:

1). If Saul’s reign lasted roughly forty years (Acts 13:21) it would mean that, if he was around nineteen when he commenced reigning, he was still fighting Philistines in his late fifties (1 Samuel 31:1-7). That is feasible. Anything much older than that would not fit in with the picture that we have in 1 Samuel 31.

2). He had a number of sons, the first of whom was Jonathan (compare 1 Samuel 14:49). Jonathan must have died at around forty years of age, for at that time his younger comrade-in-arms, David, was around thirty (2 Samuel 5:4). This would fit in with the fact that Saul’s fourth son Ishbaal (Ishbosheth) died at roughly 42 years of age (2 Samuel 2:10) seven years after Saul’s death, which would mean that he was approximately 35 years of age when Saul and Jonathan died. If this is so then we have to allow for a period in which Jonathan grew to manhood prior to the main events in 1 Samuel 13. (Note re Ishbaal. In the early days the use of ‘baal’ which means ‘lord’ was used in names in order to indicate YHWH (compare also Hosea 2:16). Later writers changed it to ‘bosheth’ which means ‘shame’ because it was by then connected with the Canaanite god Baal).

3). Jonathan had a son who was five years old when he died (2 Samuel 4:4). His name was Meribaal (Mephibosheth). 1 Chronicles 8:34; 1 Chronicles 9:40 seem to suggest that Meribaal was his only son. This might actually be seen as suggesting that Jonathan was even younger than forty when he died.

4). The writer tells us that Saul was ‘one year old’ when he became king. In ancient terminology that would translate as ‘not yet quite having reached maturity’. This would indicate that Saul was fairly young when he became king, possibly less than twenty years old which was the age at which an Israelite became liable for conscription and the age at which he seen as having become a man from the point of view of making a vow. See Exodus 38:26; Leviticus 27:3; Leviticus 27:5; Numbers 1:3 ff; Numbers 14:29; Numbers 26:2. (Alternately we might see the age of maturity as twenty five, the age at which a Levite commenced his activities - Numbers 8:23).

Reigning for ‘two years’ would on the same basis suggest that he did not reach the ‘third age’, which would probably be 60 (Leviticus 27:3). This practise of thinking of three ‘ages’ for man continued throughout the ages so that even in the last century anthropologists cite the case (among others) of an old man in Malacca who when asked his age proudly stated that he was ‘three years old’. What he meant was that he was in the third stage of life.

The reason why the writer used this ancient method of representing age was no doubt because in Saul’s rustic court there was no recorder. Thus no records were available from which to obtain accurate figures and he did not want to invent them. But he did know sufficient to be able to indicate the general situation.

5). The dealings with the Philistines in 1 Samuel 13-14 occur after a considerable period of subservience to the Philistines (1 Samuel 13:19-23). As Samuel’s period of Judgeship kept the Philistines out of Israel (1 Samuel 7:13) we must almost certainly see this as having occurred in the first few years of Saul’s reign.

6). The general impression that we have is that Saul’s reign started off well. And this ties in with the further impression given of his success in 1 Samuel 14:47-48. There we have the picture of someone who is successful. It seems very unlikely therefore that his reign should have come to grief as early as 1 Samuel 13-14 would suggest if we date them at the commencement of his reign. The placing of 1 Samuel 13-14 seems rather to put what he did in deliberate contrast to the original promise that he showed earlier, in order to emphasise that in the end he did not continue to follow out what Samuel had said in 1 Samuel 12:20-25. The writer is not interested in Saul’s life per se. What he concentrates on is why he proved to be such a failure, and his later attempts to destroy the one who would become Israel’s ‘ideal king’.

There is in the text no indication as to when the events in 1 Samuel 13 took place, although there is certainly a gap between 1 Samuel 13:2 and 1 Samuel 13:3, for in 1 Samuel 13:2 the ‘host of Israel’ is sent home, leaving Saul with his standing ‘army’. And in 13:3 the ‘host of Israel’ are called together again. This requires a good gap in between.

But as we have already seen it is clear that this latter followed a period of severe Philistine oppression (1 Samuel 13:19-23). This would confirm that the calling out of the host of Israel in 1 Samuel 13:3 occurred some time into Saul’s reign. It is indeed quite possible that the writer had no specific information available to him about the first few years of Saul’s reign, for Saul’s court was primitive with the result that there was no court recorder, and he would constantly have been involved in fighting, possibly in the case of the Philistines even in guerilla warfare. Nor was Samuel closely involved in it all, for the people were now in process of learning what was involved in trusting in a king rather than in YHWH, although he would presumably become involved when the host of Israel were called together and YHWH’s instructions had to be obtained (1 Samuel 10:8; 1 Samuel 10:17; 1 Samuel 11:14; 1 Samuel 13:8).

The Philistine oppression (coming from the west) would probably not have affected the tribes in Transjordan or the northernmost tribes, although in the latter case it possible that it did so to some degree, because there is no doubt that the Philistine tentacles did reach far and wide. But the main tribes affected would be those in the centre and south who were directly vulnerable to the Philistines because of where the major Philistine cities were situated.

We must continually remember as we read it that the book of Samuel was not strictly intended to be a history of Israel. It was intended to be a description of God’s special dealings with Israel, which was to lead from the special birth of Samuel to David’s glorious reign, a period which is depicted as being spoiled, and almost wrecked, by the introduction of Saul. Thus the writer, while briefly mentioning it, was not interested in going into the details of his reign (indeed he may not have had any history of Saul’s early reign to go on), and, while he therefore did put in a brief note of commendation (1 Samuel 14:47-48), his real interest was not in Saul as such. His view may well have been that Saul was actually a blot on the page before the arrival of David, someone only worthy of notice because he failed as king and proved Samuel to be right, and because of his insane opposition to David. That he had to some extent forfeited his right to expect the assistance of the Spirit of YHWH even before his flagrant disobedience comes out in the Philistines had been able to previously occupy the land, something that they had been unable to do under Samuel. This would explain why, at the time at which the description in 1 Samuel 13 opened, he was conducting a rearguard action against the Philistines using a small guerilla force.

Furthermore it seems unlikely that the Saul depicted in 1 Samuel 10-11 would, within such a comparatively short time, have taken to himself the prerogative of acting as a king-priest, or even have acted against Samuel. These incidents would rather suggest a time when he had begun to be more aware of his own status, and to feel that he had a right to act independently in his own right because of who he was. Such an act from someone of his timidity (1 Samuel 10:22) fits far better into the middle of his reign when he had grown to maturity, than into its commencement.

Analysis (1 Samuel 13:1-18).

a Saul was one year old when he began to reign; and he reigned two years over Israel, and Saul chose him three thousand men of Israel, of which two thousand were with Saul in Michmash and in the mount of Beth-el, and a thousand were with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin, and the remainder of the people he sent every man to his tent (1 Samuel 13:1-2).

b And Jonathan smote the garrison of the Philistines that was in Geba: and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, “Let the Hebrews hear.” And all Israel heard say that Saul had smitten the garrison of the Philistines, and also that Israel was had in abomination with the Philistines. And the people were gathered together after Saul to Gilgal (1 Samuel 13:3-4).

c And the Philistines assembled themselves together to fight with Israel, thirty units of chariots, and six units of horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the seashore in number: and they came up, and encamped in Michmash, eastward of Beth-aven. When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait (for the people were distressed), then the people did hide themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in coverts, and in pits. Now some of the Hebrews had gone over the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead; but as for Saul, he was yet in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling (1 Samuel 13:5-7).

d And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel expected, but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. And Saul said, Bring here the burnt-offering to me, and the peace-offerings. And he offered the burnt-offering (1 Samuel 13:8-9).

e And it came about that, as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt-offering, behold, Samuel came, and Saul went out to meet him, in order that he might salute him. And Samuel said, “What have you done?” (1 Samuel 13:10-11 a)

f And Saul said, “Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines assembled themselves together at Michmash, therefore said I, ‘Now will the Philistines come down on me to Gilgal, and I have not entreated the favour of YHWH.’ I forced myself therefore, and offered the burnt-offering” (1 Samuel 13:11-12).

e And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of YHWH your God, which he commanded you. For now would YHWH have established your kingship over Israel for ever. But now your kingship will not continue. YHWH has sought him a man after his own heart, and YHWH has appointed him to be war-leader over his people, because you have not kept what YHWH commanded you” (1 Samuel 13:13-14).

d And Samuel arose, and took the road up from Gilgal to Gibeah of Benjamin (1 Samuel 13:15 a).

c And Saul numbered the people who were present with him, about six hundred men (1 Samuel 13:15 b).

b And Saul, and Jonathan his son, and the people who were present with them, abode in Geba of Benjamin (1 Samuel 13:16 a).

a But the Philistines encamped in Michmash. And the spoilers came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies, one company turned into the way that leads to Ophrah, to the land of Shual; and another company turned the way to Beth-horon; and another company turned the way of the border which looks down on the valley of Zeboim toward the wilderness (1 Samuel 13:16-18).

Note that in ‘a’ Saul’s ‘army’ is spread in three places in the heights, and in the parallel the Philistine spoilers go out to three places to obtain spoil. In ‘b’ Jonathan captures Geba, and the call goes out to the tribes, and in the parallel Saul and Jonathans abide in Geba. In ‘c’ the Philistines are numbered and are a powerful force, and in the parallel Saul’s small army is numbered. In ‘d’ Saul comes to Gilgal and because Samuel does not arrive ‘to time’ disobediently offers the burnt offering, and in the parallel Samuel leaves Gilgal and Saul. In ‘e’ Samuel asks Saul what he has done, and in the parallel announces YHWH’s verdict on his action. Centrally in ‘f’ Saul with many excuses admits his disobedience.

YHWH Delivers Israel From The Philistines (1 Samuel 13:19 to 1 Samuel 14:23 a).

The passage that now follows commences with a description of the hopeless situation of Israel in the first part of Saul’s reign, and concludes with the declaration ‘so YHWH saved Israel that day’. All was thus seen as due to YHWH. The Philistines had rendered Israel as a whole powerless by preventing them from making weapons, and especially iron weapons, for the Philistines had a monopoly on the way to smelt iron. No doubt some of the tribes not affected by the Philistine occupation and control were able to make bronze weapons, but even these were seemingly not available to Saul’s own small army. Only Saul and Jonathan as the recognised leaders were properly armed.

But the whole point of the narrative is in fact to bring out that with YHWH as their Saviour they did not need proper weapons, because YHWH fought for them. It commenced by Him inspiring Jonathan and his associated armourbearer to slaughter a small Philistine garrison, and then by His using the news of that fact, possibly combined with an earthquake, to put the Philistines themselves in a quake so that they felt that they had no alternative but to flee back to their own country. Meanwhile Saul was playing around with his new found ‘toys’ and was left as a mere spectator until the final chase. Thus there is a great contrast between Jonathan the man of faith, and the favoured of YHWH, and Saul the malingerer, who was totally lacking in faith.

Analysis.

a Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, “Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears,” but all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock, yet they had a file for the mattocks, and for the coulters, and for the forks, and for the axes, and to set the goads (1 Samuel 13:19-21).

b So it came about in the day of battle, that there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people that were with Saul and Jonathan, but with Saul and with Jonathan his son was there found (1 Samuel 13:22).

c And the garrison of the Philistines went out to the pass of Michmash. And it fell on a day, that Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who bore his armour, “Come, and let us go over to the Philistines’ garrison, that is on that side over there.” But he did not tell his father. And Saul abode in the uttermost part of Gibeah under the pomegranate-tree which is in Migron, and the people who 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 YHWH in Shiloh, wearing an ephod (1 Samuel 13:23 to 1 Samuel 14:3 a).

d And the people did not know 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 (14:3b-5).

e And Jonathan said to the young man who bore his armour, “Come, and let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that YHWH will work for us, for there is no restraint to YHWH to save by many or by few.” And his armourbearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Turn yourself, see, I am with you according to your heart” (1 Samuel 14:6-7).

f Then Jonathan said, “Look, we will pass over to the men, and we will disclose ourselves to them. If they say thus to us, “Wait there until we come to you,” then we will stand still in our place, and will not go up to them” (1 Samuel 14:8-9).

g But if they say thus, “Come up to us,” then we will go up, for YHWH has delivered them into our hand. And this will be the sign to us” (1 Samuel 14:10).

h And both of them disclosed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines, and the Philistines said, “Look, the Hebrews come forth out of the holes where they had hidden themselves (1 Samuel 14:11).

g And the men of the garrison answered Jonathan and his armourbearer, and said, “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing.” And Jonathan said to his armourbearer, “Come up after me, for YHWH has delivered them into the hand of Israel” (1 Samuel 14:12).

f And Jonathan climbed up on his hands and on his feet, and his armourbearer after him, and they fell before Jonathan, and his armourbearer slew them after him. And that first slaughter, which Jonathan and his armourbearer made, was about twenty men, within as it were half a furrow’s length in an acre of land (1 Samuel 14:13-14).

e 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 very great trembling. And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked, and, behold, the amassed men melted away, and they went hither and thither (1 Samuel 14:15-16).

d Then Saul said to the people who were with him, “Number now, and see who has gone from us.” And when they had numbered, behold, Jonathan and his armourbearer were not there (1 Samuel 14:17).

c And Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring here the ark of God.” For the ark of God was there at that time with the children of Israel. And it came about that, while Saul talked to the priest, the tumult which was in the camp of the Philistines went on and increased, and Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand” (1 Samuel 14:18-19).

b And Saul and all the people who 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 (1 Samuel 14:20).

a Now the Hebrews who were previously with the Philistines, and who went up with them into the camp from round about, even they also turned to be with the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. Similarly all the men of Israel who had hidden 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 YHWH saved Israel that day (1 Samuel 14:21-23 a).

Note that in ‘a’ ‘the Hebrews’ were bereft of swords and spears by the Philistines, and thus rendered unable to save themselves, while in the parallel they were able to spoil the Philistines because YHWH saved them. In ‘b’ Israel had no swords and spears, and in the parallel YHWH made the Philistines destroy each other with their own swords. In ‘c’ Ahitub was with Saul and with all who were gathered with him, but they were doing nothing under the pomegranate tree, (while at the same time Jonathan went out to make a stir among the Philistines garrison), and in the parallel while Saul was talking to Ahitub he noted the increase of the tumult among the Philistines. In ‘d’ the people did not know that Jonathan had gone, and in the parallel they number the army in order to discover who has gone. In ‘e’ Jonathan asserts his faith that YHWH can work for them, working by many or by few, and in the parallel YHWH does work for them and the amassed army of the Philistines melted away. In ‘f’ Jonathan and his armourbearer prepare for the possibility of going up among the Philistine garrison, and in the parallel they go among the Philistine garrison and slaughter them. In ‘g’ the test of whether they should go up will be that they are invited up, and in the parallel they are invited up. Centrally in ‘h’ when they disclosed themselves to the Philistines, the foolish Philistines jeered at the two brave men as cowards, something that they were soon to regret.


Verse 1

Chronological Details Of Saul’s Reign (1 Samuel 13:1).

1 Samuel 13:1

Saul was one year old when he began to reign, he reigned two years over Israel.’

There can be no real doubt that the above is how the Hebrew should be translated, for all other suggestions are bad Hebrew and are with a view to avoiding the obvious difficulty of the verse. And furthermore it is consistent with the later pattern used for introducing the reigns of Israel’s kings. But if we take into account the ancient use of numbers it actually presents us with no difficulty at all. It would appear that the original source did not have any reliable information about Saul’s statistics and thus used a convention which all would have recognised at the time. Life was regularly seen as being in three stages, initially the growth to maturity which was stage one, then the period of maturity which was stage two, and finally the period of old age which was stage three, and this was especially so when no note was being kept by a recorder of the passage of time. In the first period a person would be described as being ‘one year old’. In the second period he would be described as being ‘two years old’. In the third period he would be described as being ‘three years old’. This may seem strange to us but many examples of this very practise have been discovered by anthropologists among primitive tribes today (as witness the case of the Malaccan above). Thus here the writer is simply saying that Saul was not yet twenty (see Leviticus 27:3) when he began to reign, and that he reigned into middle age but did not reach either sixty (Leviticus 27:3) or possibly fifty (Numbers 4:3 ff). Twenty years old was the age at which a man in Israel became of age to be drafted into the army. Alternatives may be that maturity commenced at twenty five (Numbers 8:24-26) or even thirty (Numbers 4:3 ff).

But what was important to the writer was that he indicate that he died before he reached ‘the third age’ because that demonstrated that God had cut short his life prematurely, thus demonstrating His displeasure.


Verses 2-6

Preparation For Revolt Against The Philistines (1 Samuel 13:2-6).

The general summary nature of these verses is indicated by the fact that at the end of verse 2 Saul disbands the army, retaining only his own special fighting force, while in 1 Samuel 13:3 he summons all Israel together again. In the light of 13:19-23 this in itself suggests that 1 Samuel 13:2 points to a period of general guerilla warfare in which Saul and his small army probed at the Philistines while Israel as a whole was not called on to fight in what was seen as a hopeless cause. This would point to the fact that at some stage the Philistines had established themselves firmly in the parts of Israel that bordered on their own territory and probably even wider afield, even penetrating with their garrisons into the hills. It meant that the Israelites were now discovering what life without YHWH as their King meant.

1 Samuel 13:2

Saul chose for himself three military units of men of Israel, of which two units were with Saul in Michmash and in the mount of Beth-el, and one unit were with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin, and the remainder of the people he sent every man to his tent.’

The phrase ‘sent every man to his tent’ usually means that they were sent home, being based on a technical phrase which had first been established when all did live in tents (compare 1 Samuel 4:10; Judges 7:8). This would seem therefore to indicate that from the beginning of his reign Saul regularly operated only with his standing army, having sent the main body of the people home, or it may alternatively suggest that at some stage he and the army of Israel had suffered such a heavy defeat by the Philistines, that the result was that all the people had been sent home apart from this small guerilla force. Whichever way it was the host could not be kept together over an indefinite period for they had to be fed, (they could not pillage their own people), and there were also fields to be looked after and vineyards and oliveyards to be tended at home. These three military units were then probably stationed outside Philistine held territory in the hills in order to prevent further Philistine advance, and await an opportunity for retaliation. (The Philistines did not like fighting in the mountains where their chariots were useless, and the Israelites were ‘at home’).

Now, however, it appears that they had been brought to Michmash, the mount of Bethel and Gibeah (Saul’s home town) ready at last for an attack on the Philistine occupiers which would act as the beginning of a new campaign for freedom. No doubt one unit was stationed in each of the vantage points, one on the heights of Michmash, one on the Mount of Bethel and one on the heights at Gibeah.

So we may see here the writer as initially indicating very briefly the general situation with regard to Saul’s forces, a situation which had gone on over a lengthy period, that the host of Israel remained at home while Saul and his three units held back further expansion. It is, however, describing it in terms of the situation when the actions that followed took place, at which point his son Jonathan had come to maturity and had been given command of a unit. Michmash and the mount of Bethel (between Bethel and Michmash) were two high points where the small guerilla army could be safely garrisoned and remain relatively hidden, while Gibeah itself mean ‘high place’ and was clearly similar.

We note the advent of Jo-nathan (gift of YHWH). This would help to confirm that a good number of years had passed since Saul became king. That Jonathan was a good man is clearly revealed by his behaviour towards David, but what is also made clear in the narrative that follows is that he was a man of faith and a mighty warrior.

Saul’s First Major Transgression (1 Samuel 13:3-14).

In this passage we learn of Saul’s first major transgression against YHWH. While theoretically it could have happened at the beginning of his reign, it seems far more likely that it is describing the situation some years on when he had grown in self-esteem to such an extent that he was not too punctilious about his dealings with YHWH and His prophet. As we have seen already, most facts do seem to point to the majority of chapter 13 occurring well into Saul’s reign.

Initial Action Against The Philistines (1 Samuel 13:3-6).

1 Samuel 13:3

And Jonathan smote the garrison of the Philistines which was in Geba: and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, “Let the Hebrews hear.” ’

At the time of this verse there was clearly a Philistine garrison stationed at Geba, which was a high point on the opposite side of a steep ravine from Michmash. Saul may well have been at Michmash precisely in order to keep it under observation because of the intended attack (or vice versa). Then, no doubt following a fixed plan which he had agreed with his father, while the smallish Philistine garrison were watching Saul on Michmash, Jonathan brought his own unit from Gibeah and attacked and destroyed the unsuspecting Philistine garrison on the height of Geba. This was clearly intended to be a first strike in a bid for freedom from occupation. The aim of destroying the outpost may well have been in order to delay any information getting back to the Philistines when the Israelites started to mobilise. Alternatively it might simply have been Saul’s plan to have a small success that he could present to the people, a success which would also put pressure on his fellow-tribesmen as they recognised that the die had now been cast. However that may be, it was inevitable that at some point it would reach the ears of the Philistine rulers, so meanwhile Saul had taken the next step of ‘blowing the ram’s horn throughout the land’ (compare Judges 3:27), with heralds going out in order to mobilise all the tribes of Israel far and wide in accordance with their treaty obligations.

“Let the Hebrews hear.” ‘Hebrews’ was a description of Israel usually used by foreigners, so we must ask ourselves why we find it on the lips of Saul. The probable answer is that it was Saul’s sarcastic repetition of dismissive taunts of the Philistines about the cowardly ‘Hebrews’ who would not want to hear (compare 1 Samuel 14:11). He is simply saying, ‘Well, let us show them that we are not ‘cowardly Hebrews’. ‘The Hebrews’ would then prove otherwise by responding. Or it is possible, but less likely, that ‘let the Hebrews hear’ is a call to groups of Habiru mercenaries who had been hired in readiness for the occasion (compare 1 Samuel 14:21 where the Philistines had such mercenaries) and had been spread throughout Israel. ‘Habiru’ regularly refers to any group of stateless and landless people, which may have been why Israelites were seen as ‘Hebrews’ by outsiders. This explanation would help to explain 1 Samuel 13:7 but might be seen as failing to take into account ‘all Israel’ in 1 Samuel 13:4 which seems to result from this call. If ‘let the Hebrews hear’ referred to other than the tribes we might then expect it to say ‘let the Hebrews hear as well’. However, ancient Hebrew was not always precise so that it is possible that we were intended to read that in.

1 Samuel 13:4

And all Israel heard it said that Saul had smitten the garrison of the Philistines, and also that Israel were had in abomination with the Philistines. And the people were gathered together after Saul to Gilgal.’

The news that Saul had smitten the garrison of the Philistines, and had thus guaranteed retaliation by them, accompanied the summons, and the people therefore gathered together with Saul at Gilgal, knowing that ‘Israel were had in abomination by the Philistines’. They knew that repercussions would undoubtedly follow, so that all would know that it was better to get their strike in first. The fact that Saul and his units then moved to Gilgal supports the idea that his being in Michmash, in the mount of Bethel and in Gibeah has only been a temporary expedient. If this Gilgal was the Gilgal in the Jordan valley it was beyond the line of the usual Philistine activity and therefore ‘safe’, at least for the time being. The Philistines did not like fighting in the hill country where their chariots and horsemen were useless. The gathering at Gilgal was in order to engage in seven days of freewill offerings which would act as a plea for help, prior to Samuel’s appearance in order to make a final burnt offering and give final instructions from YHWH, in accordance with the normal procedure when the tribes were called together that he had arranged with Saul (1 Samuel 10:8).

1 Samuel 13:5

And the Philistines assembled themselves together to fight with Israel, thirty units of chariots, and six units of horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the seashore in multitude, and they came up, and encamped in Michmash, eastward of Beth-aven.’

Meanwhile the Philistines gathered their forces. The Israelite scouts reported that they had thirty units of chariots (these units would be a great deal smaller numerically than the units of horsemen, possibly even as low as three chariots per unit), six large units of horsemen, and so many infantry that they could not easily be assessed. These came and encamped in Michmash, east of Bethaven. Bethaven was near Bethel and Ai, thus the Philistines may have been watching the pass that led up from Jericho and Gilgal through which the Israelite army would have to come. Note that the Hebrew word for ‘thousands’ had also come to mean ‘military units’. (It could also be used of ‘clans’ and ‘wider families’).

1 Samuel 13:6

When the men of Israel saw that they were in a fix (for the people were distressed), then the people hid themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in holds and in pits.’

When the men of Israel saw the problem that this gave them, (they either could not now use the pass, or had tried and failed), they were filled with distress, and feared the worst, so they dispersed themselves in hiding places in the mountains by Gilgal, probably because they recognised that they were trapped and if they stayed together the Philistines could stream down on them at any time and take them by surprise, while in the mountains it would be a different story.


Verses 7-14

Saul Offends YHWH (1 Samuel 13:7-14).

It would appear from what follows that the offering of sacrifices at Gilgal for seven days, followed by a special offerings made by Samuel on the seventh day, was seen as necessary whenever the tribal muster came together, in order that they might receive instructions from YHWH as their Divine War-Leader. This was in accordance with the practise laid down by Samuel in 1 Samuel 10:8. Thus it was necessary to wait at Gilgal, with the host partly in hiding, until Samuel arrived to perform the necessary sacrifices. This would suggest that there was still no official High Priest to do the honours, and that ordinary priests were simply not seen as sufficient. 1 Samuel 13:8 must not be seen as simply a fulfilment of 1 Samuel 10:8. It is far too disconnected from it for that, (a gathering at Michmash, a time spent by Saul on his farm, a foray against the Ammonites, and a time at Gilgal), especially as there had been visits to Gilgal in between.

1 Samuel 13:7

Now (the) Hebrews had gone over the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead, but as for Saul, he was yet in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.’

This reference to the dispersal of ‘the Hebrews’ would fit in with the idea that it has in mind Habiru mercenaries who had retreated to safety across the Jordan to Gad and Gilead, leaving the people in general with Saul, while they on their part awaited the call to return. On the other hand ‘all the people’ may simply indicate ‘all those who were still with him’, and the definite article on ‘the Hebrews’ may be intended to be redundant so that we read simply as ‘Hebrews’ (the definite article in Hebrew often simply means ‘the ones we are talking about’ and nothing more). Thus it may simply be indicating that some of the Transjordanian tribes slipped back home, while the remainder remained at Gilgal in a sad state of funk (hidden among the rocks). The main importance of the statement, however, is that Saul and his levy had remained in Gilgal with the bravest of the people, even though many of them were in a blue funk.

1 Samuel 13:8

And he waited seven days, according to the set time that Samuel expected, but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattered from him.’

Comparison with 10:8 suggests that whenever Saul came to Gilgal in order to prepare ritually for what YHWH might want him to do, seven days of sacrifices offered by ordinary priests were seen as essential preparation before the final burnt offering and peace offerings that Samuel would offer as substitute High Priest which would enable him then to show Saul what YHWH wanted him to do. (It is not likely that Saul and the people would be expected to wait at the Sanctuary for seven days and not offer sacrifices. They would be an expression of confidence in YHWH). However, when the seventh day came Samuel had not arrived at the time when Saul was expecting him, and meanwhile many of the people were slipping away, or were scattering in the hills in hiding. This was causing Saul to panic.

“The set time that Samuel expected/had fixed as a regular practise.” In the Hebrew there is no verb and we thus have to read in what we consider that the writer is trying to say.

1 Samuel 13:9

And Saul said, “Bring here the burnt-offering to me, and the peace-offerings.” And he offered the burnt-offering.’

So when Samuel did not arrive at what he saw as the expected time the impatient Saul felt that he could wait no longer, and ordered that the burnt offering and peace offerings should be brought. ‘And he offered the burnt offering.’ This may mean that he called on the ordinary priests to offer it, and that his sin was in not waiting on YHWH’s timing. Alternately, many consider that it indicates that he himself offered it in the guise of a king-priest. Most local kings were king-priests, and the idea then is that he went beyond his station because he saw himself as ‘a king like all the nations’. Either way he was committing a gross sin, for the whole point of Israel’s unique relationship with YHWH was that they took their orders from Him.

1 Samuel 13:10

And it came about that, as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt-offering, behold, Samuel came, and Saul went out to meet him, so that he might salute him.’

But the impatient Saul had acted too soon, for as soon as the offering of the burnt-offering had been finalised, Samuel arrived in time to fulfil his duty. And Saul went out to greet him so as to welcome him. It appears that he did not feel that what he had done was really so bad after all, which demonstrated how much he was spiritually lacking. He saw what he had done as a military necessity, not as disobedience to his Commander-in-Chief, simply because his trust was in the big battalions rather than in YHWH. What he should have recognised of course was that YHWH could save by many or by few, so that what was important was keeping YHWH on side.

1 Samuel 13:11-12

And Samuel said, “What have you done?” And Saul said, “Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the fixed amount of days, and that the Philistines assembled themselves together at Michmash, therefore I said, “Now will the Philistines come down on me to Gilgal, and I have not entreated the favour of YHWH’ I forced myself therefore, and offered the burnt-offering.” ’

But Samuel was aghast. To him what Saul had done indicated a total lack of faith in YHWH. It was rebellion of the highest order. ‘What have you done?’ he cried. This may have been because he saw Saul as having broken the levitical law concerning the limiting of the offering of sacrifices to the Aaronic priesthood, or because he saw him as not having waited for YHWH’s instructions, and thus as having interfered in the process laid down by YHWH by which Samuel received his guidance and direction from God and ensured YHWH’s blessing. Either way it was disobedience and sacrilege.

Saul replied that he had done what he did because:

1). He had seen the people slipping away (or scattering in the mountains in order to hide).

2). Samuel had not arrived at the time when he had expected him.

3) The Philistines were assembled at Michmash and were possibly waiting to come down on them.

4). He had not yet been able to seek the favour of YHWH.

Thus he had forced himself to offer the burnt offering. What he had failed to see was that it was more important to obey YHWH than to offer a burnt offering in disobedience. Doing the latter was not the way to obtain the favour of YHWH.

1 Samuel 13:13

And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of YHWH your God, which he commanded you. For now would YHWH have established your kingship on Israel for ever.” ’

Samuel now told him that he had behaved very foolishly, because he had not kept the word that YHWH his God had commanded him. If only he had done so, and had demonstrated his faith in YHWH and had continued to be faithful, YHWH would have established his dynasty for ever. His descendants after him would have been kings over Israel.

Note that Samuel speaks of ‘YHWH your God’. He wants Saul to recognise his own direct responsibility to YHWH.

(If we consider this to be a little unfair we should note that in fact Saul’s dynasty did partly continue, but failed because it was no match for David. That is why Judah initially chose David as their king. It is probable that Ishbosheth’s (Abner’s) aim was to force Judah to rejoin Israel, but even with a larger ‘host’ it did not prove strong enough to cope with David’s military ability. The writer knew why. It was because David was possessed by the Spirit of YHWH).

1 Samuel 13:14

But now your kingship will not continue. YHWH has sought for himself a man after his own heart, and YHWH has appointed him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what YHWH commanded you.”

But now he learned that because he had not been obedient, while his kingship would continue, it would not continue beyond his own lifetime. For the fact was that YHWH has now looked elsewhere and found a man after His own heart, a man who would have waited, a man who would seek to do only His will, and He has already in His own mind appointed him to be the future war-leader of Israel. And all this because Saul had not fulfilled what YHWH had commanded him.

We should note that at this point Saul was not totally rejected by YHWH as a result of what he had done in not obeying Him. It was simply that the blessings that he would receive would be limited, and he would receive no directions from YHWH for this particular situation. But he would still continue as king. His final rejection would come later. We note here that he suffers the same judgment as Eli who was also not himself rejected, but whose dynasty was to be replaced by one more fitting to YHWH.

So one result of his failure was that Samuel now had no instruction for him from YHWH, and he was thus left to manage things on his own. YHWH, however, had not totally deserted His people for He would in the event enable him, along with his son Jonathan, eventually to defeat the Philistines and drive them back. But this would not be because of Saul, but because of Jonathan’s faith in Him. This was a tragedy for Saul because if Samuel had been guiding him perhaps he would not have committed the folly of making a rash vow, and the victory would have been all the greater (1 Samuel 14:24; 1 Samuel 14:30; 1 Samuel 14:46).


Verses 15-18

Events Subsequent To Saul’s Disobedience (1 Samuel 13:15-18).

We should note that God in His mercy did not desert Israel. He would at this time still give them the means of driving out the Philistines for the time being, but in the event it would only be to a limited extent because of the failures of Saul. Here we have described for us the initial movements towards that end.

1 Samuel 13:15

And Samuel arose, and went up from Gilgal to Gibeah of Benjamin. And Saul numbered the people that were present with him, about six hundred men.’

The impression we have is that Samuel has now left Saul on his own. He has left Gilgal and made for Gibeah of Benjamin, and is no more heard of in 1 Samuel 13-14. However, his being in Gibeah does indicate that he is still available as a last resort, for Gibeah is Saul’s home town, not Samuel’s. It is in clear contrast with 1 Samuel 15:34 where Samuel returns to Ramah and sees Saul’s face no more. So while Saul is now left to see to his own affairs there is still a chink of light for him. He is not totally deserted. (If only he had known how to repent like David did all might have been made well. But that was foreign to Saul, and he chose rather to trust in ‘the Priest’ - 1 Samuel 14:3).

Meanwhile Saul has counted up what was left of his army and it has come to six hundred men. This may indicate that even many of his standing army (1 Samuel 13:2) had deserted him and were hiding in the hills, or it may simply mean that the three ‘units’ of 1 Samuel 13:2 are to be seen as consisting of two hundred men per unit.

1 Samuel 13:16

And Saul, and Jonathan his son, and the people who were present with them, abode in Geba of Benjamin, but the Philistines encamped in Michmash.’

With his six hundred men Saul, along with Jonathan, made camp in Geba because the Philistines were in Michmash. This meant that the position in 1 Samuel 13:2-3 was now reversed. The two sites were separated by a deep ravine and each was observable by the other, although neither could easily reach the other. Saul had to be constantly on the move in this way because his army was not strong enough to meet the Philistines face to face.

1 Samuel 13:17-18

And the spoilers came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies: one company turned to the way that leads to Ophrah, to the land of Shual; and another company turned to the way to Beth-horon; and another company turned to the way of the border which looks down on the valley of Zeboim toward the wilderness.’

Meanwhile the Philistines went out looking for spoil, but Saul’s force was not strong enough to be able to do anything about it, and thus all he and his men could do was watch while time and again spoilers came out of their camp and went in three directions seeking booty. One marauding party would regularly take the road that led to Ophrah and the land of Shual. One would take the road to Beth-horon. And the third would take the route to the border road between Judah and Benjamin which looked down on Zeboim. Israel were thus being despoiled. The Philistines’ hope was presumably that by doing this they would draw Saul out of his strong position on Geba. But he knew that such a move would have been folly. While his men were in their strong position at Geba the Philistines could not touch them. Let them be seen to leave their position and they would be lucky if any survived. He had little trust in his ‘host’ hidden in the hills.


Verses 19-22

YHWH Delivers Israel From The Philistines (1 Samuel 13:19 to 1 Samuel 14:23 a).

The passage that now follows commences with a description of the hopeless situation of Israel in the first part of Saul’s reign, and concludes with the declaration ‘so YHWH saved Israel that day’. All was thus seen as due to YHWH. The Philistines had rendered Israel as a whole powerless by preventing them from making weapons, and especially iron weapons, for the Philistines had a monopoly on the way to smelt iron. No doubt some of the tribes not affected by the Philistine occupation and control were able to make bronze weapons, but even these were seemingly not available to Saul’s own small army. Only Saul and Jonathan as the recognised leaders were properly armed.

But the whole point of the narrative is in fact to bring out that with YHWH as their Saviour they did not need proper weapons, because YHWH fought for them. It commenced by Him inspiring Jonathan and his associated armourbearer to slaughter a small Philistine garrison, and then by His using the news of that fact, possibly combined with an earthquake, to put the Philistines themselves in a quake so that they felt that they had no alternative but to flee back to their own country. Meanwhile Saul was playing around with his new found ‘toys’ and was left as a mere spectator until the final chase. Thus there is a great contrast between Jonathan the man of faith, and the favoured of YHWH, and Saul the malingerer, who was totally lacking in faith.

Analysis.

a Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, “Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears,” but all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock, yet they had a file for the mattocks, and for the coulters, and for the forks, and for the axes, and to set the goads (1 Samuel 13:19-21).

b So it came about in the day of battle, that there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people that were with Saul and Jonathan, but with Saul and with Jonathan his son was there found (1 Samuel 13:22).

c And the garrison of the Philistines went out to the pass of Michmash. And it fell on a day, that Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who bore his armour, “Come, and let us go over to the Philistines’ garrison, that is on that side over there.” But he did not tell his father. And Saul abode in the uttermost part of Gibeah under the pomegranate-tree which is in Migron, and the people who 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 YHWH in Shiloh, wearing an ephod (1 Samuel 13:23 to 1 Samuel 14:3 a).

d And the people did not know 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 (14:3b-5).

e And Jonathan said to the young man who bore his armour, “Come, and let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that YHWH will work for us, for there is no restraint to YHWH to save by many or by few.” And his armourbearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Turn yourself, see, I am with you according to your heart” (1 Samuel 14:6-7).

f Then Jonathan said, “Look, we will pass over to the men, and we will disclose ourselves to them. If they say thus to us, “Wait there until we come to you,” then we will stand still in our place, and will not go up to them” (1 Samuel 14:8-9).

g But if they say thus, “Come up to us,” then we will go up, for YHWH has delivered them into our hand. And this will be the sign to us” (1 Samuel 14:10).

h And both of them disclosed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines, and the Philistines said, “Look, the Hebrews come forth out of the holes where they had hidden themselves (1 Samuel 14:11).

g And the men of the garrison answered Jonathan and his armourbearer, and said, “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing.” And Jonathan said to his armourbearer, “Come up after me, for YHWH has delivered them into the hand of Israel” (1 Samuel 14:12).

f And Jonathan climbed up on his hands and on his feet, and his armourbearer after him, and they fell before Jonathan, and his armourbearer slew them after him. And that first slaughter, which Jonathan and his armourbearer made, was about twenty men, within as it were half a furrow’s length in an acre of land (1 Samuel 14:13-14).

e 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 very great trembling. And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked, and, behold, the amassed men melted away, and they went hither and thither (1 Samuel 14:15-16).

d Then Saul said to the people who were with him, “Number now, and see who has gone from us.” And when they had numbered, behold, Jonathan and his armourbearer were not there (1 Samuel 14:17).

c And Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring here the ark of God.” For the ark of God was there at that time with the children of Israel. And it came about that, while Saul talked to the priest, the tumult which was in the camp of the Philistines went on and increased, and Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand” (1 Samuel 14:18-19).

b And Saul and all the people who 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 (1 Samuel 14:20).

a Now the Hebrews who were previously with the Philistines, and who went up with them into the camp from round about, even they also turned to be with the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. Similarly all the men of Israel who had hidden 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 YHWH saved Israel that day (1 Samuel 14:21-23 a).

Note that in ‘a’ ‘the Hebrews’ were bereft of swords and spears by the Philistines, and thus rendered unable to save themselves, while in the parallel they were able to spoil the Philistines because YHWH saved them. In ‘b’ Israel had no swords and spears, and in the parallel YHWH made the Philistines destroy each other with their own swords. In ‘c’ Ahitub was with Saul and with all who were gathered with him, but they were doing nothing under the pomegranate tree, (while at the same time Jonathan went out to make a stir among the Philistines garrison), and in the parallel while Saul was talking to Ahitub he noted the increase of the tumult among the Philistines. In ‘d’ the people did not know that Jonathan had gone, and in the parallel they number the army in order to discover who has gone. In ‘e’ Jonathan asserts his faith that YHWH can work for them, working by many or by few, and in the parallel YHWH does work for them and the amassed army of the Philistines melted away. In ‘f’ Jonathan and his armourbearer prepare for the possibility of going up among the Philistine garrison, and in the parallel they go among the Philistine garrison and slaughter them. In ‘g’ the test of whether they should go up will be that they are invited up, and in the parallel they are invited up. Centrally in ‘h’ when they disclosed themselves to the Philistines, the foolish Philistines jeered at the two brave men as cowards, something that they were soon to regret.

The Parlous Situation Of Israel’s Fighters (1 Samuel 13:19-22).

We might wonder why Israel were not being more positive at this stage, but the reason for this is now explained to us. It was because of a careful and well thought out strategy of the Philistine overlords by which Saul’s men were left in a parlous position in that none of them (apart from Saul and Jonathan) had proper weapons. This had been ensured by the previous confiscation of their weapons, and by the Philistines then not allowing them to have metal smiths in their land. It is the first real indication that we have of the iron control that the invaders had maintained for some years over a good part of Israel. Combined with the Philistine’s monopoly in iron smelting, it meant that Israel could be no match for them in battle.

The consequence of this was that Saul’s men had been unable to make proper swords or spears for themselves, and thus had to make do with clubs, axes and farm instruments, or home-made weapons. It is no wonder then that the general host of ‘all Israel’, who were on the whole in the same situation, did not like the thought of meeting up with the well armed Philistines. The only ones, in fact, of the three units of Saul’s standing army, who had proper swords and spears, were Saul and Jonathan. It would be natural that the leaders would have first choice of any weapons that became available, but this lack of weapons serves to demonstrate that they had not killed any Philistines recently.

1 Samuel 13:19-21

Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, “Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears,” but all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock, (yet they did have a file for the mattocks, and for the coulters, and for the forks, and for the axes), and to set the goads.’

The Philistine strategy is described. They had allowed no smiths in Israel, and the result was that if the farmers wished to sharpen their tools properly, and to point their goads, they had to go to a Philistine smith. In between times they had to make do with using a file, which was of limited use. (A coulter is a cutting blade for a ploughshare). The aim in this was in order to make it impossible for Israel to produce swords and spears.

1 Samuel 13:22

So it came about in the day of battle, that there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people who were with Saul and Jonathan, but only with Saul and with Jonathan his son was there found such a weapon.’

And that was the reason why Saul’s soldiers had no spears and swords. Such sophisticated weapons as there were, were only possessed by Saul and Jonathan themselves. The remainder had primitive ones. This serves to bring out the courage of Saul’s men. In spite of their lack they were still present with Saul with whatever sharp instruments or effective clubbing instruments they had been able to lay their hands on.


Verse 23

And the garrison of the Philistines went out to the pass of Michmash.’

Meanwhile the Philistines, aware of Saul’s small guerilla force, sent a smallish garrison to a peak on the pass of Michmash so as to keep watch over the camp of the Israel contingent, and over the general countryside. They were no doubt also well aware that there was an army of unknown size hidden in the hills. But it would seem that they had little fear about what that army could do to them. To them it had become a standing joke (1 Samuel 14:11).

We must not overlook the bravery both of Saul and of his small army. They had come from the relative security of Gilgal, leaving their ‘army’ cowering among the hills, and, lacking in suitable weapons, had come out in order to keep an eye on the activities of the Philistines, even though it must have seemed that they could not do much about them. Their only available tactic seemed to be to wait and keep the Philistines from venturing further into the mountain country, while at the same time hoping that God would do something that would enable them to gain an advantage over the Philistines. Should that happen they could act and call in some of their reserves. But the situation did not look promising. And so with their primitive ‘weapons’ they waited in their mountain stronghold, helplessly watching the Philistine activities, and thinking ‘if only YHWH would do something’. (Which is in fact precisely what He was planning to do. For there was still one man who was attentive to His voice).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 13:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-samuel-13.html. 2013.

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