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The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 14". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ 1-samuel-14.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 14". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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JONATHAN SMITES THE PHILISTINE GAR-BISON (1 Samuel 14:1-15).
1 Samuel 14:1
Now it came to pass upon a day. Literally, "And there was a day, and Jonathan," etc.; or, as we should say, And it happened one day that Jonathan. The phrase means that Jonathan's brave feat took place not many days after the garrison had occupied the cliff, probably only two or three, but without definitely stating how many. He told not his father. Not only because Saul would have forbidden so rash an enterprise, but because secrecy was essential to any chance of success: probably too the purpose came upon him as an inspiration from above.
1 Samuel 14:2
Saul tarried in the uttermost part of Gibeah. I.e. the part nearest Geba. Under, not a, but the pomegranate tree, the well known tree at Migron. Saul evidently shared to the full in the love of trees common among the Israelites (see 1 Samuel 22:6). The Hebrew word for pomegranate is Rimmon, but there is no doubt that the tree is here meant, and not the rock Rimmon (Judges 20:45, Judges 20:47), so called probably from a fancied resemblance to the fruit. Migron, said to mean a cliff was apparently a common name for localities in this mountainous district, as in Isaiah 10:28 we read of one lying to the north of Michmash, whereas this is to the south.
1 Samuel 14:3
Ahiah, the son of Ahitub. (See on 1 Samuel 13:9.) It is interesting to find the house of Eli recovering at last from its disaster, and one of its members duly ministering in his office before the king. It has been debated whether he was the same person as Ahimelech, mentioned in 1 Samuel 21:1, etc; the supposition being grounded on the fact that Ahiah is never spoken of again. But he may have died; and with regard to the argument drawn from the similarity of the names, we must notice that names compounded with Ah (or Ach), brother, were common in Eli's family, while compounds with Ab, father, were most in use among Saul's relatives. Ahiah or Ahijah means Jah is brother; his father is Ahitub, the brother is good; why should he not call another son Ahimelech, the brother is king? Jehovah's priest in Shiloh. This refers to Eli, the regular rule in Hebrew being that all such statements belong, not to the son, but to the father. Wearing an ephod. Literally, ephod bearing. The ephod, as we have seen on 1 Samuel 2:18, was the usual ministerial garment; but what is meant here is not an ordinary ephod of linen, but that described in Le 1 Samuel 8:7, 1 Samuel 8:8, wherein was the breastplate, by which Jehovah's will was made known to his people, until prophecy took its place. All this, the former part of the verse, must be regarded as a parenthesis.
1 Samuel 14:4
Between the passages. I.e. the passes. A sharp rock. Literally, "a tooth of rock." Conder ('Tent Work,' 2:112) says, "The site of the Philistine camp at Michmash, which Jonathan and his armour bearer attacked, is very minutely described by Josephus. It was, he says, a precipice with three tops, ending in a long, sharp tongue, and protected by surrounding cliffs. Exactly such a natural fortress exists immediately east of the village of Michmash, and is still called 'the fort' by the peasantry. It is a ridge rising in three rounded knolls above a perpendicular crag, ending in a narrow tongue to the east, with cliffs below, and having an open valley behind it, and a saddle towards the west, on which Michmash itself is situate. Opposite this fortress, on the south, there is a crag of equal height, and seemingly impassable. Thus the description of the Old Testament is fully borne out—'a sharp rock on one side, and a sharp rock on the other.' The southern cliff was called Seneh, or 'the acacia,' and the same name still applies to the modern valley, due to the acacia trees which dot its course. The northern cliff was called Bozez, or 'shining,' and the true explanation of the name only presents itself on the spot." Conder then describes how, "treading perhaps almost in the steps of Jonathan, after arriving on the brink of the chasm, or defile of Michmash, they were able to descend Seneh, even with horses and mules. "I noticed," he says, "that the dip of the strata down eastward gave hopes that by one of the long ledges we might be able to slide, as it were, towards the bottom. It is not likely that horses had ever before been led along this ledge, or will perhaps ever again cross the pathless chasm, but it was just possible, and by jumping them down one or two steps some three feet high, we succeeded in making the passage.… Though we got down Seneh, we did not attempt to climb up Bozez .... Horses could scarcely find a footing anywhere on the sides of the northern precipice; but judging from the descent, it seems possible that Jonathan, with immense labour, could have 'climbed up upon his hands and upon his feet, and his armour bearer after him' (1 Samuel 14:13). That a man exhausted by such an effort could have fought successfully on arriving at the top can only be accounted for on the supposition of a sudden panic among the Philistines, when they found the enemy actually within their apparently impregnable fortress."
1 Samuel 14:5
Was situate, etc. The word thus translated is that rendered pillar in 1 Samuel 2:8, and the verse should possibly be translated, "And the one tooth (or crag) was a rocky mass on the north over against Michmash, and the other was on the south over against Geba" (not Gibeah, as the A.V.; see 1 Samuel 13:16). But the word is omitted in the versions, and may be an interpolation.
1 Samuel 14:6
Uncircumcised. An epithet of dislike almost confined to the Philistines. But underneath the whole speech of Jonathan lies the conviction of the covenant relation of Israel to Jehovah, of which circumcision was the outward sign. Notice also Jonathan's humble reliance upon God. It may be that Jehovah will work for us, etc.
1 Samuel 14:7
Turn thee. The Hebrew seems to have preserved the very words of the young man, and the difficulty in rendering this phrase arises from its being a colloquial expression. "Face about" would be our phrase; but the sense is, "On with you; I will follow."
1 Samuel 14:9
Tarry. Hebrew, "be still," "stand still," the word used by Joshua of the sun (Joshua 10:12, Joshua 10:13); but not the word rendered stand still just below, where the Hebrew has, "We will stand under us," i.e. we will stop just where we were.
1 Samuel 14:10
A sign. The waiting of the garrison for Jonathan and his armour bearer to mount up to them would be a sign of great indifference and supineness on their part; but what he rather meant was that they were to regard it as an omen. Kim'hi has a long digression in his commentary on this place to show that there was nothing superstitous in their looking for a prognostic to encourage them in their hazardous undertaking. God, he says, bade Gideon go to the camp of the Midianites to obtain such a sign. as Jonathan looked for here (see Judges 7:11).
1 Samuel 14:11
Both of them discovered themselves. They had crept up the precipice unseen, but at some convenient spot near the top they so placed themselves that the garrison must see them, and waited there till their presence was observed. Behold, the Hebrews. There is no article in the Hebrew. What the Philistines say is, See! Hebrews come out of the holes wherein they had hid themselves.
1 Samuel 14:12
Come up to us, and we will show you a thing. The Philistines thus give Jonathan the very omen he had desired. The last clause is a popular phrase, and expresses a sort of amused contempt for the two adventurers. Raillery of this sort is not at all uncommon between the outposts of two armies.
1 Samuel 14:13
Upon his hands and upon his feet. Of course a single stone rolled down upon them while thus clambering up the precipitous side of the cliff would have sent them to the bottom; but the Philistines, apparently considering the ascent impossible, seem entirely to have neglected them. The youthful appearance of the two no doubt contributed to throw them off their guard. And they fell before Jonathan. The brevity of the Hebrew very well expresses the rapidity of Jonathan's action. Used to mountaineering, he was ready, as soon as he had reached the summit, to commence the attack, and the Philistines, little expecting so vigorous an onslaught from so feeble a force, were surprised, and made but a slight resistance. The armour bearer also behaved with a bravery like his master's.
1 Samuel 14:14
Within as it were an half acre of land, which a yoke of oxen might plow. The Hebrew for this long circumlocution is, "within about a half furrow of a yoke of land." The Septuagint translates, "with darts and slings and stones of the field," but the other versions give no support to this rendering. The Israelites, like most ancient nations, were accustomed to measure land by the quantity which a yoke of oxen could plough in a day,—something really less than an acre,—so that the A.V. gives the fight sense. When Jonathan made his attack, the garrison probably, not knowing bow few their assailants were, ran in confusion to the narrow tongue of land where the exit was, and getting in one another's way, were soon panic stricken and helpless.
1 Samuel 14:15
Trembling. I.e. "terror," "fright." In the host. Hebrew, "in the camp," i.e. the main camp at Michmash, contrasted with the field, i.e. the open country, in which the soldiers were foraging for supplies. The people. I.e. the camp followers, as opposed to the soldiers. All these were terrified by the garrison rushing down the pass, with tidings of the attack magnified by their fears, and who communicated the alarm to the spoilers, who, having now for a fortnight met with no resistance, had probably discontinued all measures of precaution. The earth quaked. This may be taken literally, but is more probably a poetical description of the widespread terror and confusion which prevailed far and near. So it was a very great trembling. Literally, "and it became a terror of God;" but the name of the deity (Elohim, not Jehovah) is constantly used in Hebrew to express vastness.
DEFEAT OF THE PHILISTINES (1 Samuel 14:16-23).
1 Samuel 14:16
The watchmen, etc. Condor says ('Tent Work,' 2:115), "The watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin must have seen dearly across the chasm the extraordinary conflict of two men against a host, as the 'multitude melted away, and they went on beating down one another.' The noise in the host was also, no doubt, clearly heard at the distance of only two miles, and the army would have crossed the passage with comparatively little difficulty by the narrow path which leads down direct from Geba to Michmash, west of the Philistine camp. Thence the pursuit was towards Bethel, across the watershed, and headlong down the steep descent of Aijalon—that same pass where the first great victory of Joshua had been gained, and where the valiant Judas was once more, in later times, to drive back the enemies of Israel to the plains." The multitude. The Hebrew is, "And behold the tumult was reeling and going … and thither." Of course hither has dropped out of the text before and thither. The Septuagint and Vulgate both read "hither and thither." Tumult means the din made by a confused mass of people, and so the crowd itself. Melted away does not give the exact meaning. The Philistines were not dispersing, but were reeling, moving to and fro purposeless, and in confusion. It may mean, however, to shake or melt with terror, as in Isaiah 14:31, where it is rendered art dissolved.
1 Samuel 14:17, 1 Samuel 14:18
Number now. On hearing from the watchmen that fighting was seen on the other side of the ravine, Saul commands the roll to be called, that he may learn who has made the attack, and finds only his son and the armour bearer missing. Uncertain what their absence might mean, he said unto Ahiah, Bring hither the ark of God. The Syriac, Vulgate, and Chaldee support this reading, but the Septuagint has ephod, and there can be no doubt that this is the right reading; for the verb rendered. Bring hither is never used of the ark, but only of the ephod; nor was the ark used for making inquiry of God, but the ephod with the breastplate inserted in it. The rest of the verse is a gloss added by some scribe struck at this strange mention of the ark, which we know was still at Kirjath-jearim. It is itself corrupt and ungrammatical, being, "For the ark of God was in that day and the children of Israel." Still both the reading ark and the gloss are very ancient, being found in the versions, except the Septuagint, as above.
1 Samuel 14:19
Withdraw thine hand. Saul, impatient of delay, cannot wait till the will of God is made known to him. There would have been no real loss of time, and he might have been saved from the errors which marred the happiness of the deliverance. But this precipitancy very well shows the state of Saul's mind.
1 Samuel 14:20
Saul and all the people … assembled themselves. Margin, were cried together, i.e. summoned by trumpet note. The Syriac and Vulgate, however, make the verb active, and translate, "And Saul and all the people with him shouted and advanced to the battle." Discomfiture. Rather, "dismay," "consternation," as in 1 Samuel 5:9.
1 Samuel 14:21, 1 Samuel 14:22
Round about, even. All the versions by a very slight alteration change this into turned, which the A.V. is forced to supply. With this necessary correction the translation is easy: "And the Hebrews who were previously with the Philistines, and had gone up with them into the camp, turned to be with the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan." It appears, therefore, that certain districts of the Israelite territory were so completely in the power of the Philistines that they could compel the men to go with them, not perhaps as soldiers, as is our custom in India, but as drivers and servants. These now turned upon their masters, and were reinforced by the Israelites who had taken refuge in Mount Ephraim. It is noteworthy that these subject "Hebrews" retain the name of contempt given them by their masters.
1 Samuel 14:23
Over unto Beth-aven. Hebrew, "the battle passed Beth-aven," i.e. no rally was made there. In 1 Samuel 14:31 we read that the pursuit continued as far as Aijalon. For Beth-aven see on 1 Samuel 13:5.
SAUL'S RASH COMMAND (verses 24-35).
1 Samuel 14:24
The men of Israel were distressed that day. The word is that used in 1 Samuel 13:6 of the state of terror and alarm to which the Israelites were reduced by the Philistine invasion; here it refers to their weariness and faintness for want of food. For Saul had adjured the people. Hebrew, "had made the people swear." He had recited before them the words of the curse, and made them shout their consent. His object was to prevent any delay in the pursuit; but in his eagerness he forgot that the strength of his men would fail if their bodily wants were not supplied. But though worn out and fainting, the people faithfully keep the oath put to them.
1 Samuel 14:25
And all they of the land. Hebrew, "the whole land," or, as we should say, the whole country, which had risen to join in the pursuit. Honey upon the ground. The wild bees in Palestine fill fissures in the rocks (Deuteronomy 32:13; Psalms 81:16) and hollow trees with honey, till the combs, breaking with the weight, let it run down upon the ground. A similar abundance of honey was found by the early settlers in America.
1 Samuel 14:26
The honey dropped. More correctly, "Behold, a stream (or a flowing) of honey."
1 Samuel 14:27
Jonathan, who had not been present when his father charged the people with the oath,—literally, "made the people swear,"—dipped the end of his staff hastily, so as not to hinder the pursuit, in an honeycomb—Hebrew, "into the honey wood," i.e. into the hollow branch or trunk out of which the honey was flowing (but see So 1 Samuel 5:1). His eyes were enlightened. I.e. made bright and clear, the dimness caused by excessive weariness having passed away. But this is a correction made by the Jews (kri), and the written text (c'tib) has "his eyes saw," which is more forcible and poetic. When the A.V. was made the kri was supposed to be authoritative, but most modern commentators have come to the opposite conclusion.
1 Samuel 14:28
And the people were faint. There is great diversity of opinion whether this be part or not of the speech of the man who informed Jonathan of the oath forced on the people by Saul. It makes, perhaps, the better sense if regarded as the continuation of the history, and inserted to justify Jonathan's disapproval of his father's hasty command. The fight rendering is were weary, as in the margin and Judges 4:21.
1 Samuel 14:29
My father hath troubled the land. I.e. hath brought disaster upon it (see Genesis 34:30; Joshua 7:25). This disaster was the incompleteness of the victory, owing to the people being too exhausted to continue the pursuit.
1 Samuel 14:30, 1 Samuel 14:31
For had there not been now a much greater slaughter? This clause is really an indicative: "For now the slaughter of the Philistines is not very great." Nevertheless, the pursuit was continued as far as the pass of Aijalon, and though, owing to the increasing weariness of the people, but few of the Philistines were overtaken, nevertheless it would compel them to throw away their arms, and abandon all the booty which they had collected. For very faint the Hebrew has very weary, as in 1 Samuel 14:28.
1 Samuel 14:32
The people flew upon the spoil. The written text has, "And the people set to work upon the spoil, and took sheep," etc; but as the sentence is not very grammatical the kri has corrected it from 1 Samuel 15:19. The versions have either "greedily desired," or "turned themselves unto." The people who had waited until evening, when the oath forced upon them by Saul was over, then in their hunger broke the law doubly: first in killing calves with their dams on the same day (Leviticus 22:28), and secondly, more seriously, in so killing them "on the ground" that the blood remained in the carcase. The law enjoined the utmost care in this respect (ibid. 1 Samuel 17:10-14), but the people were too weary and hungry to trouble about it.
1 Samuel 14:33, 1 Samuel 14:34
Ye have transgressed. Better as in the margin, "dealt treacherously," i.e. faithlessly, to the covenant between Israel and Jehovah. Roll a great stone unto me this day. Or, as we should say, this minute; but the Hebrew uses "this day" for anything to be done at once (see on 1 Samuel 2:16). The purpose of this stone was to raise up the caresses of the slaughtered animals from the ground, so that the blood might drain away from them. On tidings of this arrangement being dispersed throughout the army, the people obey Saul with the same unquestioning devotion as they had shown to his command to abstain from food.
1 Samuel 14:35
And Saul built an altar unto Jehovah as a thank offering for the Divine favour in gaining so great a victory. The same was the first altar, etc. Literally, "As to it he began to build an altar unto Jehovah." On these words the question has arisen whether the meaning be that Saul began to build an altar, but with characteristic impetuosity left off before he had completed it; or whether on that occasion he commenced the custom followed by David (2 Samuel 24:25) of erecting altars as the patriarchs had done in old time. The latter interpretation is more in accordance with the usage of the Hebrew language, and is approved by the translations of the Septuagint and Vulgate.
1 Samuel 14:1-12
Inspiration in Christian enterprise
The facts are—
1. Jonathan, on his own responsibility, and without his father's knowledge: resolves on an attack upon the Philistine garrison.
2. He expresses to his armour bearer his hope that God will help, and also the ground of that hope.
3. He proposes to regard the first encouragement from the enemy to ascend the cliff as a sign of coming success.
4. The sign appearing, Jonathan advances in confidence of victory. The recent transgression of Saul was now bearing some bitter fruit in his comparative inactivity and helplessness. It is not likely that Jonathan was ignorant of the displeasure of the prophet of God, or was surprised at the embarrassment which had come upon his father's affairs. In seasons of disaster and wrong there are select men of God who mourn the sins of their superiors and the woes of their country. Being one of this class, Jonathan may be regarded as exhibiting some of the highest results of the instruction and influence of Samuel during the slow reformation subsequent to the victory at Ebenezer. It is in God's heart to have pity on his people and to deliver them; but at this juncture can we not discern a wise propriety, not unmixed with retribution on the king, in conferring the honour of deliverance upon a man of piety, whose heart evidently yearned for the highest good of Israel? Thus do we see here, as in many other instances, how readily, and where not looked for, God raises up instruments to effect his purposes when the ordinary instruments fail through sin. Private enterprise can often accomplish what, in consequence of a loss of the right spirit, organised and official effort is utterly powerless to perform. The enforced inactivity of Saul, the desolations of the spoilers, and the multitudes of refugees in the caves of the mountains, must have produced a most depressing effect on the king and his followers. In their extremity, under an inspiration most pure and noble, help came in the daring enterprise of Jonathan, as recorded by the historian. It is possible that a secular mind on reading the narrative may regard the story as just one of those records of military adventure that are to be found in the annals of all warlike nations. But we are to form our estimate of the event by the light of Scripture; and when we consider it in connection with God's revealed purpose to work out the Messianic covenant through a chosen race, the tenor of Jonathan's life, and especially his words declaring his faith in God (1 Samuel 14:6), we must then see here not a wild freak of a daring soldier, nor even a clever device for achieving merely military distinction, but a true and noble inspiration to accomplish a great work in the name of God, and for the ultimate realisation of the Divine purposes. It may be assumed that, under the present conditions of the kingdom of Christ in the world, there is frequent and full scope for endeavours corresponding, in their relation to the organised efforts of the Church and in their chief characteristics, to the effort of Jonathan in its relation to the monarchy. Likewise the same inspiration is needed for the more perfect development and successful use of the organised forces of the Church. While nations live in sin, fearful evils fester in our crowded towns, debasing and dangerous customs hold multitudes in bondage, avenues to the human mind lie untraversed by Christian men, and possibly propriety degenerates into a rigid, obstructive conservatism, there is room for men and women who dare to go and do what seems impossible, and for a fresh baptism on the hosts of God to inspire them to deeds of valour and self-denial. It is possible that spurious forms of enthusiasm may arise, and may pass for heaven-created zeal. Contagion of sentiment may obtain the force of a torrent. The emotional element in religion may be abnormally developed, and incline, under stimulus, to deeds which no sound judgment will justify. But grant all this, and more, and yet it is true that there is a pure inspiration in the service of Christ much to be coveted. Let us consider the characteristics of such a true inspiration.
I. IT IS DISTINGUISHED BY INDIVIDUALITY. Whether it be found in private action or in the combined effort of the Church, it does not appear as the mere product of organisation, nor as a revival of stereotyped custom. Jonathan's inspiration began in his own heart. It was, in the shape it took, the natural outcome of the man. Considerations of the position of affairs aroused his nature, but he was no copyist, no waiter upon other men's deeds. Keeping the secret from his father was essential to the more perfect individuality of his feelings and his enterprise. Ideas grow in power over us when we nourish them. Sometimes, like the Apostle Paul and Jonathan, we do better not to "confer with flesh and blood, but brood over our thought and purpose, by the aid of the Spirit of God, till they become a power which must work outwards in forms true to our own personality. There is far more individuality in the Christian Church than is at present developed. When a Christian is, as the result of brooding over things, so permeated with a conviction of his obligation to Christ, a yearning to save men from sin, and a spirit of self-sacrifice, as to be mastered by these forces, he will find out some way in which his natural aptitudes and capabilities may be turned to account in Christ's service. All great and beneficial movements have borne the stamp of individuality, from the labours of the Apostle Paul on, by Luther, up to the latest endeavours to save the waifs of our city population.
II. IT CONTEMPLATES AN END CONFORMABLE TO THE END FOR WHICH CHRIST DIED. Jonathan reveals his piety and his intelligence in using language to his armour bearer to the effect that he thought it probable that the Lord might save through his instrumentality. He sought the salvation which God loves to accomplish, and for which the order of Providence was working. It is our privilege to take a wider and more spiritual view than even a devout Hebrew. There is an end contemplated by God, and being wrought out by the great sacrifice on the cross, with its concomitant influences—a multitude that no man can number redeemed out of every nation, kindred, and tribe from the bondage and pollution of sin. Whoever sets his heart on any good work, conformable, and therefore tributary, to that issue,—be it social amelioration, rescue of lost ones from vice, sanitary improvements, diffusion of knowledge,—is so far sharer in the true inspiration. But especially is that a true and noble inspiration which not only aims at ends which, being good and moral, are so far conformable and helpful to the end for which Christ died, but aims at that spiritual salvation on which the heart of Christ was supremely set when he gave himself a ransom for us. This is the longed for issue of all those noble workers at home or abroad who visit the abodes of sin, and seek, as though they cannot refrain from it, to gather the poor degraded ones into the Saviour's blessed fold.
III. IT IS CHARACTERISED BY FREEDOM FROM PERSONAL VANITY. Jonathan's motives were transparently pure. There was none of the restlessness of the inactive soldier craving for opportunity to display prowess; no regard for self in his self-denial and risks. His references to the Lord and the saving of the people he loved reveal a true, generous, self-sacrificing spirit. It is when works of benevolence, and especially works strictly spiritual, are devised and carried through in this spirit that we are under the influence of a true inspiration. A love of praise, a desire for prominence, fondness for being counted a great and successful worker, an unreasonable sensitiveness to apparent neglect, and kindred feelings, are the "little foxes" that steal the grapes.
IV. IT IS MARKED BY IMPLICIT DEPENDENCE ON THE POWER OF GOD. Jonathan showed prudence and skill in the ascent of the precipice and in the encouragement he sought for advancing by means of the "sign;" but the feat passes out of the category of "reckless," or even, in the common usage of the term, "daring," when we note that, having the sign as a kind of answer to the prayer of his heart, he rested his success not on his skill or strength, but on the Lord, with whom there "is no restraint to save by many or by few." He was inspired every step of the way up the rocks by trust in the ever present Power which shields the faithful and works the wonders of redemption for his people. Here lies the secret of the true inspiration that has wrought so powerfully in the Church of God in its purest and most successful eras. The apostles felt that it was not of man, but of God, to save. A few feeble Jews were mighty, through God, to the pulling down of many a stronghold. It is this which enables the missionary to toil on amidst the loathsome vices of the savage, and the friend of the outcast at home to attempt what none others dare.
V. IT IS MARKED ALSO BY THE BUOYANCY OF HOPE. When Jonathan said, "It may be that the Lord will work for us," it was not to express uncertainty, but to cheer a man of less faith, and to indicate the belief that God was about to use him in his service. He rightly interpreted his yearning to be used as an inspiration of God, and when the "sign" came that assured him that his heart's desire was accepted, he moved on with a cheerful spirit. "Come up after me: for the Lord hath delivered them into the hand of Israel." The modesty of the assurance! "The hand of Israel;" not "my hand." This buoyant spirit that looks on in hope founded on deep conviction of God's faithfulness inspires every one who is truly called to labour for Christ. The tone of the apostles all through their toils is one of cheer. The golden gates of the eternal city seem ever to shine before them, and they hear already the new song. Every one on whom this true apostolic succession has come enters into sympathy with them, and no longer toils with dejected brow and despairing heart.
1. There is abundant encouragement for Christian work in the historically illustrated fact that God does accomplish great results through feeble and varied means.
2. It is a question with each of us whether we really believe that there "is no restraint with the Lord," and whether lack of faith in this great truth does not explain much in our life and labour which we deplore.
3. We may ask ourselves whether there is anything in the present state of the Church and the world affording scope for our special exertion after the manner of Jonathan's.
4. It should be an inquiry as to whether we are open to receive and welcome an inspiration from the Lord to enter on some work involving self-denial and difficulty.
5. If we think we are inspired to undertake some difficult work for Christ, we should discriminate between sudden impulse and mature irresistible longing; and, seeking counsel of God, follow the signs of Providence.
1 Samuel 14:13-23
God's faithfulness to his own.
The facts are—
1. Jonathan and his servant ascend the precipice and slay, on a narrow strip of land, about twenty men.
2. A panic arising, from a combination of causes, the commotion attracts the attention of Saul's sentinels.
3. It being ascertained that Jonathan was engaged against the Philistines, inquiry is sought of God, by Saul, through the priest Ahiah.
4. The tumult among the Philistines increasing, Saul abruptly stops the inquiry and leads on his followers to battle.
5. The deserters and the fugitives fall on the rear of the retreating Philistines. The historian sums up the narrative of events in this section by the suggestive words, "So the Lord saved Israel that day." It was "the Lord," working through the instrumentality of a noble hearted man and the events concurrent with his action—not withholding the reward of fidelity, notwithstanding the questionable conduct of the king. "It is the Lord," must be the verdict of history, not only of their deliverance, but of many others in all time.
I. GOD'S FAITHFULNESS IS SEEN IN PERFECTING THE WORK WHICH HE INSPIRES. There can be no doubt but that Jonathan received this "good and perfect gift" of inspiration, to seek the salvation of his country, from God. We have seen that it could not have been a mere human, earth born impulse. There may be a point at which the human free aspiration becomes touched with a Divine power; but, as a whole, the impulse is of God. The narrative tells us how certainly God wrought for the perfecting of that which he saw in the heart. Not a step of his way did Jonathan find to be a practical denial of the truth of his inward prompting. Thus the life of the true man of God is crowded with evidences of the Divine faithfulness. He who begins a "good work" within us will carry it through. He is "not unrighteous to forget our work of faith and labour of love." He will "perfect that which concerneth us." "Loving his own," he loves "to the end." Abraham, under an inspiration from God, went forth, and all through his pilgrimage he found Jehovah to be a covenant keeping God. In our painful and protracted endeavours, in obedience to an aspiration born from above to rise to the heights of holiness and to bless others, we shall find him faithful who hath promised never to leave nor forsake us.
II. IN MAINTAINING HIS FAITHFULNESS TO HIS PEOPLE GOD CAUSES VARIED INFLUENCES TO CONVERGE ON THE DESIRED RESULT OF EFFORT. The Divine faithfulness is not arbitrarily and absolutely manifested. It is seen in realising the desired end by a succession of events naturally connected. Jonathan's exertions were put forth as though all rested on the courage of his own heart and the strength of his own arm. The narrative shows us how an unseen hand upheld the brave soldier, and caused diverse things to converge on the one issue: e.g. the young soldier's skill, tact, and courage; the folly of the defenders in allowing him a footing on the narrow pathway of the upper part of the precipice; the fear aroused through ignorance of the full facts of the assault; the panic spread from post to post—strengthened, possibly, by a slight shock of earthquake; the onward movement of Saul's troop; and the opportunity created for the rallying of fugitives and deserters (1 Samuel 14:21, 1 Samuel 14:22).
Such an historical episode is of great value to us, as indicating in distinct, traceable incidents the reality of that Divine wisdom and power which ever presides over all the efforts of Christians to rid themselves and the world of Sill. It illustrates as on a picture the great formula of faith—"All things work together for good to them that love God." As "the stars in their courses fought against Sisera," and as even holy angels are "ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation," so may it be said, in the case of every one who strives to purify himself from all sin, or seeks by some bold or ordinary endeavour to win the world over to Christ, "all things are yours,"—are being governed by the Lord of all so as to subserve the one holy end to the attainment of which your hearts are inspired.
III. IN MANIFESTING HIS FAITHFULNESS TO HIS PEOPLE GOD PERMITS THE IMPERFECT TO SHARE IN THE BLESSINGS PROCURED BY THE MORE PERFECT. Primarily, it was God's compassion for Israel and his covenant with Abraham that must account for this new deliverance. Secondarily, it was a reward to Jonathan's fidelity and self-consecration. Saul had shut himself out of the honour and privilege of obtaining deliverance for the nation. Even now his old folly and rashness reappear, in religiously beginning to seek counsel, thus honouring God, and then in irreverently discontinuing to seek that counsel, through his impetuous haste to join in the pursuit, thus preferring the impulse of his heart to the declared will of God. Nevertheless, even Saul derives great advantage from the prowess of the good and devout Jonathan. God, in his mercy, does not sacrifice the final interests of his people to the folly of a leader. Thus, also, Joseph's brethren shared in the prosperity won by their holy and wise brother. The inferior Christians of today participate in some of the outward blessings accruing to the faithful as the result of their fidelity.
1. It would be a profitable study to note in detail, over the field of sacred and Church history, and in the sphere of private Christian enterprise, to what a large extent the world is indebted for spiritual, material, and educational good to the honour God has put on the labours of the most faithful of his servants.
2. We may be perfectly sure in the pursuit of any holy enterprise, to which personally we may feel inadequate, that God, with whom is "no restraint," will develop helping circumstances.
3. The helping circumstances desiderated will arise, not at first, but only as we faithfully press along the line of duty.
4. The cumulating record of God's faithfulness to his people through the long ages should make us calm, strong, and immovable in the most perilous of enterprises undertaken for Christ.
1 Samuel 14:24-35
Unwise zeal and moral obtuseness.
The facts are—
1. Saul by a rash vow causes great distress among the people and diminishes the fruits of victory.
2. Jonathan, unawares, takes food contrary to his father's prohibition, and on being informed of the truth, deplores the unwisdom of the vow.
3. As a consequence of the enforced exhaustion, the people at the close of the day violate the ceremonial law by a voracious meal of flesh unduly prepared.
4. Saul, professing to be shocked at their sin, provides means by which the offence may be avoided, and raises an altar unto the Lord. The turn in affairs brought on by Jonathan's heroism was most welcome to Saul, as it seemed to be the return of the prosperity which had received a check in his own sin at Gilgal. There had been no expressions of sincere penitence, nor, as far as the narrative gives light, any effort to regain former relationships to Samuel. The impulsive rush from the inquiring priest to join in the pursuit revealed a state of mind which at once accounts for the curse pronounced on any one who should dare to take food. The facts included in the section before us furnish a conspicuous instance of unwise zeal and moral obtuseness.
I. UNWISE ZEAL. The zeal of Saul was conspicuous enough. As in the case of Joshua (Joshua 8:8-13), there was an intense desire to put into a single day all the exertion possible in order to make the victory over God's enemies more complete. There was clearly in his mind an idea that he was doing God service (verse 33). But the unwisdom of the zeal is equally conspicuous; for it prevented, by the physical weakness induced, the very end designed (verses 29, 30): it caused pain and annoyance to an obedient people, who, while submissive, must have lost some respect for their monarch's judgment; it exposed the best man of the day to a great peril, and the people to a strong temptation to commit excess. Unwise zeal may be considered variously.
1. As reform. It assumes diverse forms according to the circumstances of the case.
(1) Sometimes the aim may be wrong, as when the Jews in apostolic times, in their zeal, not according to knowledge sought most energetically to perpetuate a decaying ceremonial. The same is true of all who compass sea and land to make mere proselytes to their order or sect, or to bring modern feeling and usage back, in matters of minor significance, to the style of the past.
(2) Often the method is wrong, as in the case of Saul. Men have not always the wisdom to conserve or develop, as the occasion may demand, their energy suitably to the end in view. There is an enormous waste in the world from this cause. Perhaps no man, in his daily calling, is free from this form of unwise zeal. We see illustrations of this in the untiring effort of some to be justified before God by their own deeds of righteousness; in the constant and painful flow of penitential tears and self-inflicted sorrows as means of the forgiveness which comes only by calm trust in Christ; and in the wild and ill considered agencies sometimes used to win careless men to Christ.
(3) Sometimes the end is good and the method, but the time is unsuited. It might be good for Israel to chase the foe with full energy, and also good to fast, but the time was not suitable for the conjunction of the two. It is mistaken zeal to concentrate all strength on the edification of a Church when multitudes are living outside the fold of Christ. Wisdom lies much in doing work at the right season.
2. As to origin. Saul's unwise zeal arose from his impulsive temperament not being chastened and regulated by a diligent use of the counsel which was always available to him as king from God. This radical error accounts for the ill-balanced judgment which could not see the effect of a long fast on physical energy, for the rash utterance, for the eager springing at the first chance to escape from the helpless position consequent, on recent transgression, and for the egotistical reference to avenging his own enemies. The origin of unwise zeal in most instances is connected with deficient waiting upon God. The knowledge of men may be defective, their temperament may be impulsive, their prevision of a low grade, their self-regulation a matter of emotional pressure rather than of reason; and yet if such men would, remembering their obvious imperfections, devoutly wait on God for his guidance, and seek daily grace to govern themselves, they would avoid many blunders in practice. Imperfectly balanced men will never do work in life perfectly. We must lay to our account a large proportion of foolish deeds in Christian and secular enterprise. The calming, enlightening power of devotion is not fully recognised.
3. As to consequences. In Saul's case, as already indicated, it induced trouble and pain to his people, interfered with the most perfect success of Jonathan's effort (verses 29, 30), lowered himself in the eyes of his subjects as a king deficient in judgment, and, by exercise, intensified the defective qualities which gave rise to it. We have here a summary of what always attends unwise zeal. Every foolish display of energy, even in a good cause, brings distress to those who have the interests of religion and humanity at heart. Being a waste of power, and therefore a violation of the moral and social laws by which God brings the highest results to pass, it impedes the subjugation of evil to good. and the final triumph of God's kingdom. The world is suffering still from erratic courses, destitute of sound judgment, pursued in the name of religion; from a concentration of energy on superficial instead of on radical evils; and from an undue application of resources to the curative methods, in frequent oversight of the preventive.
II. MORAL OBTUSENESS. The moral obtuseness of Saul's character had manifested itself in his evident inability to see at Gilgal. (1 Samuel 13:8-10) the stupidity of seeking to please God by an act of worship which itself was a violation of his explicit commands. Character becomes more fixed as time passes on; and here we see Saul so morally obtuse as not to perceive that, while condemning a ceremonial offence on the part of the people (verse 33), he was unconscious of the folly of his own conduct, and of the moral offence both of laying on the people a serious hindrance to victory and of preferring his own wild impulse to the counsel of Jehovah. Moral obtuseness may be regarded in reference to—
1. Its causes—e.g. inherited dulness of conscience, imperfectly formed moral discrimination in early years, growing habituation to formal religious acts, the influence of a low state of public morality, and postponement of sincere repentance after known transgressions.
2. Its manifestation—e.g. in rigid external observances to the neglect of spiritual culture, combination of religious zeal with positive indulgence in immoral feelings, ease in detecting palpable offences in others with self-complacent views of one's own condition, insensibility to the truth which awakens the finer spiritual feelings of other men, and coarse treatment of the sensitive.
3. Its danger—e.g. in being inaccessible to many of the most elevating influences, rendered more dense by every repeated exercise, and productive of a delusive self-righteousness which becomes more self-assertive in proportion as inward unholiness prevails.
4. Its treatment—e.g. by distinct personal teaching of the most discriminating and pungent character, placing the individuals in close association with persons of fine spiritual discernment and delicacy of character as a striking foil, prompting to acts that will tend to reveal the inward incompetency, and special prayer for the quickening of the life giving Spirit.
1. Cultivate a refined moral sensibility in youth as a basis for life.
2. Men in office need prayer for special spiritual wisdom.
3. When sin has been committed it should be repented of at once, and special prayer made lest its inward influence be to lower the tone of feeling.
HOMILIES BY B. DALE
1 Samuel 14:1-15. (GEBA, MICHASH.)
The heroism of Jonathan.
"Come, and let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised, etc. (1 Samuel 14:6). The character of Jonathan is one of the bravest, most generous: devout, and blameless in history. Of his earliest years nothing is recorded. When first mentioned he was in command of a thousand soldiers (1 Samuel 13:2), and his overthrow of the Philistine garrison in Geba was "the first act of the war of independence;" but (as in the case of Moses—Acts 7:25) it failed to deliver his people from oppression. His attack upon the enemy's camp at Michmash, which is here described, resulted in victory. He inherited the physical strength and courage of Saul; but in other respects presented a contrast to his father; exemplified the best, as the latter exemplified some of the worst features of the age, and set a pattern of true heroism for all time.
"What makes a hero? an heroic mind
Expressed in action, in endurance proved."
I. EXALTED ASPIRATIONS (1 Samuel 14:1) which—
1. Are cherished in adverse circumstances (1 Samuel 13:22; 1 Samuel 13:2). Instead of being crushed by adversity, "an heroic mind" bears it patiently, rises above it, and aspires to higher things (Acts 21:13). In its midst it shines all the more brightly, like gold purified by the fire.
2. Lead to courageous projects. Jonathan often looks across the ravine between Bozez and Seneh (1 Samuel 14:4, 1 Samuel 14:5), and revolves in his mind how he can strike a blow at the apparently inaccessible fortress of the enemy; and at length goes forth secretly in the night or at early dawn, attended only by his armour bearer. To communicate his project to others, even if it were as yet clear to himself, would be to hinder or defeat its accomplishment. He feels called to attempt something great, and "confers not with flesh and blood."
3. Are inspired by the Divine Spirit. More of "the mind of the Lord was doubtless made known to Jonathan than to the king, notwithstanding the presence of the priest with him (1 Samuel 14:3). What appears presumption to others is often to one Divinely taught the simple path of duty.
II. EMINENT FAITH (1 Samuel 14:6), including—
1. A firm conviction of the covenant relation of God to his people. "These uncircumcised" in opposition to Israel. Jonathan's thought was not of himself, but of his people, and of the promises and purposes of God concerning them.
2. A lofty conception of the unlimited power of God to save them. "There is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few" (2 Chronicles 14:11; Micah 2:7). In comparison with his might the strength of man, whether much or little, is nothing. He has often used "the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty" (1 Corinthians 1:27, 1 Corinthians 1:28), and he can do so again. Faith is shown in contemplating the power of God, and is thereby greatly increased.
3. Humble reliance on the gracious cooperation of God on their behalf. "It may be that the Lord will work for us." He is ready and able to afford help, but whether it will be given in connection with a particular course of action is, without express direction or promise, uncertain; and the indications of his will should be followed with humility, hopefulness, and confidence. "The measure of faith is the measure of God's help." "All things are possible to him that believeth."
III. PRUDENT WATCHFULNESS (1 Samuel 14:9, 1 Samuel 14:10).
1. In contrast to reckless adventure. Faith in God gives insight into the hidden principles and tendencies of things, teaches the adoption of appropriate means, and makes men calm as well as fearless when others lose self-control, and adopt foolish and dangerous expedients (Acts 27:25, Acts 27:30).
2. In ascertaining the prospects of success. If the enemy are on the alert and exhibit courage, it will be vain to expect to take them by surprise (1 Samuel 14:9); but if they feel themselves secure in their position, are careless and slack, and blinded by self-confidence, "the Lord hath delivered them into the hand of Israel" (1 Samuel 14:12).
3. In working wisely with a view to that end. God works by means, and not without them, and the wisest means are the most successful.
IV. DARING ENERGY (1 Samuel 14:11-14) in—
1. Enduring great risk.
2. Putting forth immense effort. "Jonathan climbed up on his hands and knees." It is a severe as well as a dangerous climb to reach the point where the conflict begins.
3. Following up every advantage to the utmost. "When he came in full view of the enemy they both discharged such a flight of arrows, stones, and pebbles from their bows, crossbows, and slings that twenty men fell at the first onset, and the garrison fled in a panic."
V. INSPIRING SYMPATHY (1 Samuel 14:7, 1 Samuel 14:13). A believing and heroic spirit begets the same spirit in others.
1. At first those with whom it comes into closest contact—it may be a single individual.
2. Afterwards a host (1 Samuel 14:21, 1 Samuel 14:22).
3. And their aid contributes to the general result. "The history of battles should teach us the mighty power of sympathetic relations."
VI. DIVINE APPROVAL.
1. Expressed in the overthrow of the enemy—bringing them into confusion (1 Samuel 14:15), turning them against one another (1 Samuel 14:16), and saving Israel from their oppression, as well as in the Providential ordering of all things that contributed to it.
2. In commendation of "the spirit of faith" in which the enterprise was undertaken and carried out.
3. Recognised by all the people. "He hath wrought with God this day" (1 Samuel 14:45)—wrought effectually through his favour and power. The day was won by Jonathan; still more by God. "So the Lord saved Israel that day" (vers 23). And to him the glory must be ascribed.—D.
1 Samuel 14:16-23. (GIBEAH.)
Impatience in seeking Divine counsel.
"Withdraw thine hand" (1 Samuel 14:19). In order to ascertain the will of God two things are necessary:—
1. A special method of communication. In ancient days it was "by dreams, Urim, and prophets" (1 Samuel 28:6). The Urim (light, illumination) and Thummim (perfection, completeness, truth) were symbols of some kind or other attached to or placed within the folded breastplate connected with the ephod of the high priest (Exodus 28:30; Numbers 27:21). "The question brought was one affecting the well being of the nation, or its army, or its king. The inquirer spoke in a low whisper, asking one question only at a time. The high priest, fixing his gaze on the 'gems oracular' that 'lay on his heart,' fixed his thoughts on the light and perfection which they symbolised, on the holy name inscribed on them. The act was itself a prayer, and, like other prayers, it might be answered. After a time he passed into the new, mysterious, half ecstatic state. All disturbing elements—selfishness, prejudice, the fear of man—were eliminated. He received the insight he craved. Men trusted in his decisions, as with us men trust the judgment which has been purified by prayer for the help of the eternal Spirit more than that which grows only out of debate and policy and calculation" (Smith's 'Dic.'). "When at length a visible king reigned by Divine appointment, the counsel of the Urim and Thummim passed into the public ministry of the prophets, which modified and controlled the political organisations of the kings" ('Bible Educ.,' 4:37). We have now the written word and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
2. A proper spirit of inquiry—humility, sincerity, faith, patience, and perseverance. Saul "inquired of the Lord" (Judges 1:1; Judges 20:27; 1 Samuel 10:22), but not in a right manner, impatiently breaking off his inquiry before the answer came, and commanding the priest to desist from pursuing it. In like manner many persons begin to pray, and forthwith cease, instead of "continuing instant in prayer;" ask, and wait not to receive; call upon God under the pressure of trouble, and neglect to do so when it has passed away. Such impatience in seeking to "understand what the will of the Lord is"—
I. ARISES FROM UNDUE CONCERN ABOUT SECONDARY MATTERS.
1. The need of human effort, as if nothing else were necessary to success (Psa 23:1-6 :16, 17; Psalms 127:1, Psalms 127:2).
2. The gain of earthly honour or other advantages. Saul was eager to obtain, beyond everything else, the glory of a victory over his enemies.
3. The loss of a favorable opportunity. But "there is no time lost while we are waiting God's time. It is as acceptable a piece of submission to the will of God to sit still contentedly when our Lord requires it as to work for him when we are called to do it" (M. Henry).
II. PROVES SINFUL INDIFFERENCE TO THE HIGHEST OBJECT.
1. Inappreciation of its worth. Men often imagine that their own wisdom and strength are sufficient, and that it can be done without.
2. Indisposition to bow to its authority. They love to have their own way.
3. Incredulity as to its communication at the right time and in the right manner. They disbelieve the promises as well as reject the conditions of obtaining them.
III. EXHIBITS RECKLESS DISREGARD OF THE LORD HIMSELF. By—
1. Seeking him in an insincere, inconsistent, and hypocritical manner, which the cessation of prayer plainly shows (Job 27:10).
2. Preferring personal and immediate convenience to his honor, and desiring his help only in so far as it may be conducive to self-interest.
3. Disobedience to his will; for to act without the knowledge of that will when it may be obtained is a manifest act of disobedience (Isaiah 30:1).
IV. INVOLVES DISASTROUS CONSEQUENCES.
1. Destitution of the highest counsel and aid.
2. Unpreparedness for duty and conflict.
3. A course of recklessness, sin, trouble, and humiliation (1 Samuel 14:24, 1Sa 14:37, 1 Samuel 14:39, 1 Samuel 14:44, 1 Samuel 14:45). "Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually" (Hosea 12:6). "I will hear what God the Lord will speak," etc. (Psalms 85:8).—D.
1 Samuel 14:24-46. (MICHMASH, AJALON.)
"Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening," etc. (1 Samuel 14:24). Rashness is often a cause of trouble; and some persons might profitably ponder the advice once given by the town clerk of Ephesus, "Do nothing rashly" (Acts 19:36). It is also, sometimes, very sinful, as it was in Saul. Whilst pursuing the Philistines, and wishing to exterminate them, he imposed a solemn oath upon the people not to take food until the evening under penalty of death. This rash oath was followed by two others of a similar nature (1 Samuel 14:39, 1 Samuel 14:44), all indicating the recklessness and wilfulness of his course. His concern for the law (1 Samuel 14:33, 1 Samuel 14:34), his erection of an altar (1 Samuel 14:35), his asking counsel of God before going to spoil the enemy by night (1 Samuel 14:37), his eagerness to ascertain by lot the cause of the silence of the oracle (1 Samuel 14:41), were not an exhibition of genuine piety; they were rather a substitute for it, and the fruits of an unsanctified, blind, and passionate zeal; and the death of the noble Jonathan, if it had taken place, would have completed his folly and sin. Consider his rashness as—
I. REVEALING A WRONG STATE OF MIND.
1. Inconsideration. His oath was uttered without deliberation (Ecclesiastes 5:2). He did not consider whether it was according' to the will of God, nor what its consequences might be. He did not afterwards reflect how far the transgressions of others and the silence of Heaven might be due to his own fault, and he did not apparently recognise his fault when plainly set before him.
2. Insincerity. "It did not proceed from a proper attitude toward God, but was an act of false zeal in which he had more regard to himself and his own kingly power than to the cause of the kingdom of Jehovah" (Keil).
3. Vainglory. "That I may be avenged on mine enemies." "In this prohibition there was a secret pride and misuse of power, for he desired to force, as it were a complete victory, and then appropriate the glory of it to himself."
II. IMPOSING A NEEDLESS BURDEN upon others. Once and again it is said "the people were faint" (1 Samuel 14:28, 1 Samuel 14:31). They were exhausted with severe and prolonged exertion, famished with hunger, and unable to continue the pursuit. Their suffering was great, their power diminished, their temptation strong. But Saul had thought only of himself. Rulers should seek the welfare of their subjects rather than their own glory; and all men should consider the effect of their resolutions, promises, and commands on other people, and use their influence over them for their good.
III. OCCASIONING GRIEVOUS SIN in them (1 Samuel 14:32-35). They avoided one offence only to commit another with a rashness equal to that of Saul himself (Genesis 9:4; Deuteronomy 12:16; Le Deuteronomy 3:17; Deu 7:1-26 :27). He censured and checked them. Would that he had also censured and checked himself! But men who severely condemn the faults of others are often blind to their own, even when the former reflect and are occasioned by the latter (Psalms 19:12, Psalms 19:13). The altar, erected doubtless with a view to the presentation upon it of thank offerings for the victory, was still more needed for the sin offerings (expiatory) which ought to have been offered on behalf both of ruler and people (Le 1 Samuel 4:13, 1 Samuel 4:22).
IV. IMPERILLING INNOCENT LIFE. Not having heard the oath, Jonathan, in unconsciously violating it (1 Samuel 14:27), was morally blameless. Yet his act could not be passed by with due regard to the great name in which the people had been adjured. It interrupted Divine communications (1 Samuel 14:37), and resulted in his being chosen by the lot (1 Samuel 14:42). Again Saul should have been led to consider his own error as its cause, and a trespass or guilt offering might have sufficed (Le 1 Samuel 5:4). To inflict the "curse" would be wholly unjust, as is implied in Jonathan's simple, mild, and submissive remonstrance (1 Samuel 14:43). But Saul's last oath was more reckless than his first; it was ignorant and wilful, showed more concern about the literal fulfilment of his word than humble and faithful obedience to a higher will, and brought him to the brink of a great crime.
"Take then no vow at random: ta'en in faith
Preserve it; yet not bent, as Jephthah once,
Blindly to execute a rash resolve,
Whom better it had suited to exclaim,
'I have done ill,' than to redeem his pledge
By doing worse" (Dante, 'Par.' 5.).
V. BRINGING DEEP HUMILIATION (1 Samuel 14:45). The ominous silence of the people (1 Samuel 14:39) is followed by their unanimous and resolute voice, in which reason and justice, conscience and God, speak with irresistible might. They set their will in opposition to his, and he is compelled to submit. His purpose is frustrated. "The son is raised above the father, and the people above the king." But although his sin is now forced home upon him, of voluntary submission there is no sign. Rashness and self-will are sure to meet with a check, and happy is he who lays to heart the lesson which it teaches.
VI. DEFEATING ITS OWN AIMS. (1 Samuel 14:46). "My father hath brought disaster on the land," etc. (1 Samuel 14:29, 1 Samuel 14:30; Joshua 7:25). The completeness of the overthrow of the enemy is marred. The opportunity of inflicting a fatal blow upon them is lost. "And there was sore war against the Philistines all the days of Saul" (1 Samuel 14:52). That which begins in rashness ends in disappointment and grief.—D.
JONATHAN'S DANGER AND DELIVERANCE (1 Samuel 14:36-46).
1 Samuel 14:36
Let us go down after the Philistines by night. Saul, conscious that he had prevented the victory from being so decisive as it would otherwise have been, proposes to repair his fault, now that the people have taken food, by continuing the pursuit during the night. The people render the same unquestioning obedience as before, but Ahiah gives counsel that they should first ask the approval of God. Let us draw near hither. I.e. to the altar which Saul had just set up. Ahiah may have done this because he disapproved of Saul's project, or because generally God ought to be consulted before undertaking anything of importance. Already the neglect of this had led to no good results (see 1 Samuel 14:19).
1 Samuel 14:37, 1 Samuel 14:38
He answered him not. From this silence Saul concludes that some sin has been committed, and therefore calls together all the chief of the people—literally, "the corner stones" (Judges 20:2)—to inquire who was the guilty person, and wherein he had sinned.
1 Samuel 14:39
He shall surely die. With despotic violence, without waiting to learn what the offence was, and judging simply by consequences, because he was delayed in following up the pursuit, he takes a solemn oath that the offending person shall be put to death. Thus twice in the same day he was guilty of the sin of rash swearing. The people condemn him by their silence. They had obeyed him with ready devotion; but now they listen in terror to the rash and violent words which condemn to death the young hero by whom God had that day wrought deliverance for them.
1 Samuel 14:40, 1 Samuel 14:41
As God also condemned Saul by his silence, the Urim and Thummim giving no answer, he places himself and Jonathan on one side, and the people on the other, and determines to cast lots. He then prays, Give a perfect lot, or, as in the margin, "Show" (literally, give) "the innocent." This is undoubtedly the meaning of the Hebrew, while the rendering of the text is taken from Kimchi. There are few mistranslations of the A.V. which have not some good Jewish authority for them, as King James's translators were singularly well versed in Jewish literature, while they seem strangely to have neglected the still higher authority of the ancient versions. These generally translate "Give holiness," a phrase equivalent to "Show the truth." The Septuagint and Vulgate add explanations, which, however, throw no light upon the passage.
1 Samuel 14:44
God do so, etc. Again Saul takes an oath to put Jonathan to death, supposing himself bound by his former words. But he must have been pained beyond measure at the miserable consequences of his rashness, and have bitterly reproached himself for thus twice marring the happiness of the day by unhallowed oaths. Jonathan's trespass, committed unwittingly, required nothing more than a trespass offering for its expiation, nor did the silence of the Urim and Thummim imply any fault in him. The fault lay in Saul having imposed an oath upon the army; that oath had been broken, and a formal expiation must be made. But Saul was by nature a despot, and could endure nothing that seemed even for the moment to stand in his way.
1 Samuel 14:45
The people said. They had hitherto shown their disapproval of Saul's conduct by their silence; now they decide that Jonathan shall not die, and their decision was right and godly. Saul might feel bound by his rash oath, but the consciences of the people told them that an oath to commit a crime is an oath to be repented of as a sin, and not to be performed as a duty. They do not say, however, God forbid, but "Far be it." The name of the Deity is constantly taken in vain in the A.V. without adding either beauty or energy to the word of God. But even if it did, what right have translators to add energy to the word of God? He hath wrought with God this day. The argument of the people is wise and good. Jonathan's whole conduct on that day proved an especial presence of God with him. It would be morally wrong and an offence against religion to condemn that which God approved, and the people therefore set their oath against the king's oath, and prevail.
1 Samuel 14:46
Saul went up, etc. Thus, as the final result of his self-will, Saul had to discontinue his pursuit of the Philistines, and their power, though weakened by the overthrow, remained unbroken.
SUMMARY OF SAUL'S WARS, AND ACCOUNT OF HIS FAMILY (1 Samuel 14:47-52).
1 Samuel 14:47
So Saul took the kingdom. Instead of so the Hebrew has and, rightly; for this is no result or consequence of Saul's victory over the Philistines, but a mere historical introduction to the summary of his wars. The more correct translation would be, "When Saul had taken the kingdom over Israel, he fought," etc. Saul's reign was valiant and full of military glory. He was, in fact, in war all that the people had longed for, and not only. did he gain independence for Israel.. but laid the foundation of the vast empire of David and Solomon. But it is not the purpose of Holy, Scripture to give us the history of all Saul s valiant exploits, but only of his moral probation and failure. Of wars we read more than enough in profane history; here we read of the formation of character, and how a hero in the midst of noble and worthy feats of arms may yet lose something nobler and worthier—the favour of God. On every side. Moab and Ammon were on the east, Edom on the south, Zobah on the northeast, and the Philistines on the west. Zobah lay beyond Damascus, and, from the accounts given in 2 Samuel 8:3-8; 2 Samuel 10:6, must have been a powerful state. He vexed them. The verb is a judicial one, used of punishing the guilty, and might be translated "he chastised them." The Syriac and Vulgate give the real sense—"he was victorious."
1 Samuel 14:48
He gathered a host. So the Syriac and Vulgate, but the margin is probably the true meaning, "He wrought mightily," or valiantly.
1 Samuel 14:49
Saul's family and kindred. Three sons only of Saul are here mentioned, apparently those slain at the battle of Mount Gilboa, where, however, Ishui is named Abinadab (1 Samuel 31:2, as also in 1 Chronicles 8:33; 1 Chronicles 9:39). A fourth son, Esh-baal, subsequently called Ishbosheth, is omitted. The daughters, Merab and Michal, are mentioned because of the history in 1 Samuel 18:17-21.
1 Samuel 14:50
Saul's wife was Ahinoam, the daughter of Ahimaaz. We have noticed on 1 Samuel 14:3 the fondness of the family of Eli for names beginning with Ah, "brother." It does not justify us in concluding that Ahinoam was a descendant of Eli, but she may possibly have been so. Abner, whose name is here given in its strictly proper form, Abiner, was Saul's first cousin, both Kish and Ner being sons of Abiel.
1 Samuel 14:51
The son of Abiel. There can be little doubt that the right reading is sons, and not son. We thus get an intelligible statement—"And Kish the father of Saul and Ner the father of Abner, were sons of Abiel."
1 Samuel 14:52
The summary ends with two important particulars respecting Saul's kingdom—the first, that the Philistines were powerful and dangerous enemies to Israel all his days; the second, that in order to carry on the war with them he ever kept around him the nucleus of a standing army. In thus forming a "school of heroes" he raised the whole spirit of the people, and took an essential and necessary step for maintaining Israel's freedom. With much of the despot in him, Saul had grand qualities as a soldier, and for many years admirably fulfilled the primary object for which he was chosen. And while he was thus giving the nation internal security, Samuel was teaching it how to use its growing prosperity, and was raising it in the scale of intellectual worth. If in the time of the judges we have Israel in its boyhood, as in the Sinaitic desert we have it in its infancy, under Saul and Samuel it reached its manhood, and became a powerful, vigorous, and well ordered community, able to maintain its freedom, and with means for its internal development in the schools of the prophets, which ended in making it not merely enlightened itself, but the giver of light to the rest of mankind.
1 Samuel 14:36-46
Seeking counsel of God and keeping one's word.
The facts are—
1. Saul, following his own impulse, desires to pursue the Philistines during the night, but is restrained by the priest advising to seek counsel of God.
2. No answer coming from God, Saul concludes that sin has been committed, and resolves that the sinner when discovered shall die.
3. A lot being taken, it falls on Jonathan, who admits having tasted honey, and submits to the sentence.
4. Saul, again solemnly consigning his son to death, is confronted by the people, who claim and rescue Jonathan's life on the ground that he was doing God's work that day. Rash impulse was the besetting sin of Saul. Being by Divine arrangement more than a military leader, it was his duty to seek guidance from God in times of uncertainty. Men of cooler judgment doubted whether it was wise to urge on all through the night men who had been worn down by fasting all day, and were scarcely free from their evening meal. The priest evidently saw that Saul's haste and the unexpressed hesitation of the people could be best dealt with by consulting the Urim. The Divine silence at once indicated that something was wrong, and according to precedent it was necessary to ascertain where it lay. The ceremonial wrong was Jonathan's, the moral Saul's. The moral degeneracy of Saul was not only seen in his impulsive neglect of God's counsel, but also in the self-complacent zeal with which he sought out the breach of his own rash command, and in the unnatural harshness of his sentence. People are sometimes better than their rulers, and hence the popular sense of justice demanded that in this instance royal authority and national custom should give way before the manifest will of God. Jonathan must not die, even though a king's word be broken. The three prominent matters of the narrative are seeking counsel, keeping one's word, and safety in God.
I. SEEKING COUNSEL. It is the part of wisdom in life's affairs to seek counsel of God; and although sometimes no counsel is given, its absence is very instructive, and the causes of it are ascertainable. In the case of Saul both duty and privilege demanded a frequent appeal to God. On the occasion before us the need was real, the method was at hand, and response was possible, and a lack of response was itself of value. Our common human relation to God is not unlike that of Israel's king.
1. There is forevery one frequent need of Divine counsel. Life, even under the direction of the clearest reason and purest natural impulses, is not safe; for sin has disturbed the nature of the best of men. It is not always that that which at first seems good and safe turns out in the end to be so. What to do in private, domestic, and public affairs, and what proportion of time and strength to give to various claims, are questions pressing on every conscientious mind. In matters pertaining to religious belief, culture, and enterprise, we each, if life be not stagnant, require more than earthly wisdom. The heart of man is sensible that it is not in him infallibly and safely to "direct his steps," and hence in all lands it instinctively though often in ignorance, cries out for the living God (Proverbs 16:9; Jeremiah 10:23).
2. There is a method at hand. The Urim was not far from Saul. By a study of God's will as seen in his word, his providence, the yearnings of a sanctified heart, and the voice of his peoples we may gain guidance in addition to that private illumination which unquestionably comes in answer to true prayer. No rule can be laid down for individuals. Each day's circumstances must suggest the means we use to ascertain the will of God.
3. There is reason for looking for a response to our seeking. It was a tacit understanding with Saul on the settlement of the kingdom (1 Samuel 9:25-27; 1 Samuel 10:24, 1 Samuel 10:25) that he might count on the guidance of God. Samuel's exhortations and instructions all through proceeded on this assumption. Nor was God's silence on the present occasion contrary to this; for it was of itself a significant indication of the mind of God. Saul knew its meaning. The exhortations to us to "seek the Lord," the distinct promises that he will "hear," the many instances on record in which men sought and followed the Lord, raise an assurance that the seed of Jacob shall not seek his face in vain (Isaiah 19:1). The answer may come in unlooked for forms,—in the clearing of our moral perceptions, the secret bent given to the purified heart, the opening up of courses of action, or a concurrence of events and influences,—but come it will some time if we are sincere and earnest.
4. The absence of response is often accountable. We know why Saul's seeking for counsel was in vain. There are frequent instances in which the silence of God is conspicuous. He was silent when the Psalmist cried unto him to awake (Psalms 35:22-24); when defiled men cried unto him (Isaiah 1:12-15); when amidst the storm men were in fear (Matthew 8:24-26); when in presence of a wounded heart be would not heed captious men (John 8:6, John 8:7); and when questioned by one who had no right to assume a tone of authority (John 19:9). Even though our holiness of life, or at least consistency, be real, and our supposed need be urgent, it is possible that the discipline of faith and patience is the reason for no response.
II. KEEPING ONE'S WORD. Saul felt bound in honour to keep his word, even at the cost of his son's life. He found himself in an awkward position, for it would reveal an irresolution unfavourable to authority if he should overlook his son's deed under a plea of ignorance which any one might make; and, on the other hand, as the people did believe Jonathan's plea, and held him to be the real victor of the day, it would expose Saul's folly and injustice if he should take away so valuable a life. Such was Saul's sense of the importance of keeping his word, that all must be sacrificed to it.
1. There is a fictitious truthfulness. The bare doing as he had said, and merely because he had said it, was Saul's ideal of truthfulness. Here, then, was a vague apprehension of a grand virtue, and a crude presentation of moral obliquity as being identical with it. Truth is a virtue entering into the depths of life; and had Saul been really a man of truth, he would have considered Jonathan's case on its own merits, have honestly admitted the folly and sin of his own rash declaration, and have sacrificed his own repute to the general interests of righteousness. There is much fictitious truthfulness in the world. Some men, by sheer obstinacy of disposition, will do as they say simply because they said it, heedless of the injury it may do. To keep to what one has acknowledged to be binding is supposed to be truthfulness in act, and yet many will be rigorous in the observance of some moral obligations and careless of others. To avoid theft and murder is coincident with deeds of lying and selfishness. A similar fictitious truthfulness is seen in the careful outward observance of days without cherishing the spirit in accordance with them, and in the performance of acts of worship as a substitute for the homage of the soul.
2. Real truthfulness is a quality of extreme importance. Saul confessed this in his zeal for the fictitious; as do all men in their devices to secure an appearance of it, and their instinctive homage to the reality when presented in word or deed. Real truthfulness does not apply merely to correspondence of statement with occurrence. It is another name for reality in thought, feeling, life; and it applies to our relation both to man and God. The conformity of our nature with what is befitting a creature of the Holy One is the real truthfulness. Hence, nothing enters the New Jerusalem that "maketh a lie." Hence, regeneration is a renewal "in the image of him" who created us. Hence, also, in so far as we are like unto him who is "the Truths" all our relations to men are pure, lovely, honest—the natural outcome of "truth in the inward parts." This quality is essential to the most perfect social confidence; for it renders fraud, deceit, selfishness, dissimulation, distrust impossible, and the reverse virtues real, whenever it is dominant in human nature. Attention to this in education is supremely important.
III. SAFETY IN GOD. Jonathan's life was safe in God's care in spite of zeal for a fictitious regard for truth on the part of his father. The voice of the people demanding his release was the voice of God, and the honour put on Jonathan during the previous day was evidence to all but the obstinate king of a favour much to be desired. He who had gone forth in the service of the Lord with true, honest heart, and had been shielded in the dangerous enterprise, was not forsaken by his God when now the rashness of man encompassed his life with peril. Thus, the custom of Eastern rulers keeping their word when once uttered (Judges 11:30-39; Matthew 14:9), personal consistency, and royal authority must give place where God makes manifest his approval. Does not the position of Jonathan lead our thoughts on to our own in a greater day of trial? We are not to be tried by the variable impulse of man or established custom, hut by impartial justice. What God declares shall be done when our day's battle is over will be done in truth. If he acquits us then, who is he that condemneth? His favour will save from a worse calamity than any that threatened Jonathan; and the practical question is how to come into such relation to God that the universal demand of justice shall be for our not perishing. The answer is—"There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1); "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth" (Romans 8:33).
1. We are consistent with our privileges when not only our calamities and great affairs, but our ordinary actions, are made subject to Divine guidance (Philippians 4:6).
2. It is especially desirable to seek counsel of God when we are conscious of restlessness and ill-regulated impulse.
3. Faithfulness requires that, a promise or engagement being made, we keep our word even at much personal cost; but when such loss would occur, generosity requires of the gainer that it be not wholly insisted on (Psalms 15:4; LuLuk 6:31; Ephesians 4:32).
4. Truthfulness in character is the opposite of sinfulness, for sin is a practical lie (Genesis 3:1-5; 1 John 2:4).
5. Our final safety rests not on the past untarnished purity of life (Romans 3:10; 1 John 1:8), but on our being identified with Messiah's life and purpose (John 14:19; Romans 8:35-39).
1 Samuel 14:47-52
Gradation in service.
The facts are—
1. Saul's warlike efforts issue in the general discomfiture of his enemies.
2. The domestic relations of Saul are incorporated in the record of facts pertaining to gradual unfolding of the Divine purpose.
3. During all his conflicts with the Philistines Saul shows prudence in strengthening his military position. The section gives a summary of the military operations of Saul's reign and of the success of his efforts, and also places on the page of sacred history the names of the members of his family. Judged by rules applicable to ordinary historical records, the brief reference to his wars may appear to have little or no moral significance, and the allusion to his father, his wife, and children to be merely a matter of Jewish antiquarian interest. But the Bible was composed under the guidance of a higher than human wisdom; and both in what it includes and omits there is a relation to the higher spiritual issues in which the events of Jewish history culminated. There had been given to Saul the opportunity of rendering service to Israel, both by setting them free from the oppression of enemies and by inspiring the nation with a spirit conformable to the great Messianic purpose for which they existed. He failed to enter into the high spiritual aspirations suitable to a ruler of the chosen race, and therefore history simply records the fact that his life was spent in the rendering of the lower kind of service. Repression of the foe was service, but of an inferior type. He missed a chance of doing a more glorious and enduring work.
I. THERE IS A GRADUATED SERVICE POSSIBLE TO MEN. The possibilities of Saul's life when entering on his public career are manifest. They were not realised, though he, using certain natural abilities, succeeded in rendering valuable service as a warrior. Of every human being it may be said, as he enters on life, there is a possibility of conferring few or many, small or great, benefits on his kind. The conditions of rising to the higher grade of service are the possession of appropriate natural abilities and an occasion for employing them. These conditions being given, it rests with his will to rise to the higher level or to be content with the lower. Secular and spiritual are not always good terms to indicate spheres of activity, because every act can and ought to be spiritual in its tone and principle. But for our present purpose we may use the terms in the common acceptation. There are grades of service—
1. In the secular sphere. It may not be easy to construct a scale that shall in detail exhibit the relative value of labour, but there are broad outlines which are always recognised in civilised society. Manual toil is not comparable with mental. That service which relates to the material condition of mankind is inferior to that which bears on the moral. Whatever produces temporary effects is of less value than that which issues in the enduring. There are men who remain all their days on the lowest level, and there have been some who rose from that position to almost, if not quite, the highest in the scale. No man's contribution to the common weal is to be despised, but every man is bound to rise as high as possible in the scale of valuable service.
2. In the spiritual sphere. As in ancient times there were "hewers of wood and drawers of water," subordinate, in the common work of the chosen race, to men of loftier aspiration and more refined occupation, so in the Christian Church there are diversities in gifts and service. Generically all true Christians are equal in privilege of position and in function as witness bearers for Christ. And there is no room for boasting or invidious comparisons, as it is the "grace of God" which worketh all in all. Yet as a matter of fact, arising partly from great diversity in natural capacity and partly from causes in the individual will, there are distinct gradations in kind and value of service rendered, as tested by the strength of principle involved and the enduring character of the effect. There are men who devote time and means only to the preservation of the outward organisations of the Church. Others, nourishing their own piety with care, minister consolation and instruction to the sick and ignorant. Others, again, by a wonderfully holy and beautiful life at home, as well as quiet zeal outside, train souls for Christ, and leave an imperishable impress on the world.
II. The GRADE OF SERVICE ATTAINED TO DEPENDS CHIEFLY ON A WISE USE OF EARLY OPPORTUNITIES. Had Saul cherished the spirit awakened by his converse with Samuel and the subsequent inspiration from God (1 Samuel 9:25-27; 1 Samuel 10:9), and strengthened it by obedience in the hour of trial (1 Samuel 13:13), far nobler service would have been recorded of him than that he made war with the Philistines all the days of his life. His successor David entered on a higher sphere. Of course both in the secular and spiritual spheres natural capacity and education are important determinants, as also the occurrence of favourable opportunities. But, as a rule, the position we occupy depends on our disposition to improve such opportunities as now and then fall to the lot of most persons. Hundreds are "hewers of wood and drawers of water" all their days because in early life they failed to seize the chance of developing their own powers. In science and literature there are men who, when raw youths of meagre education, laid hold of some passing opportunity for self-improvement which opened the way to still higher advantages. In the Church there are and have been noble men who, carefully nourishing the sacred gift of a new spirit and availing themselves of some chance of doing good, rose from obscurity to the distinction of ambassadors for Christ, "whose praise is in all the Churches." There are Sauls and Davids still.
1. While thankful for being permitted to render the smallest service to the Church and the world, we should "covet earnestly the best gifts" 1 Corinthians 12:31).
2. Youths and persons young in the Christian life should be repressed with the importance of the due improvement of their position.
3. Whenever possible we should look favourably upon any effort to enter on a wider range of usefulness.
4. The standard of service, as to aim, method, and spirit, by which our aspirations should be regulated, is the life of Christ.
HOMILIES BY B. DALE
1 Samuel 14:36, 1 Samuel 14:37. (AJALON.)
Drawing near to God.
Of the fallen house of Eli, one at least, Ahiah (Ahimelech—1 Samuel 21:1), the grandson of Phinehas, appears to have been a faithful servant of God. When the people, having ended their pursuit of the Philistines and satisfied their hunger, rested around their gleaming camp fires, and Saul proposed a nocturnal expedition against the enemy so as "not to leave a man of them, he devoutly and courageously interposed with the words, "Let us draw near hither unto God." He had already witnessed the effects of the king's rashness, feared its further results, and felt that "it was dangerous to undertake anything without asking counsel of God" (see 1 Samuel 14:19). His language is suggestive of—
I. THE EXERCISE OF A RELIGIOUS PEOPLE in prayer. It is—
1. A possibility. For God is "nigh at hand, and not afar off" (Deuteronomy 4:7; Psalms 145:18; Jeremiah 23:23). He has provided a way of access—an altar (Hebrews 13:10), a sacrifice, and a high priest (Hebrews 7:19; Hebrews 10:20-22; Ephesians 2:18). The throne of God is not only a throne of glory and of judgment, but also a throne of grace. "The Lamb is in the midst of the throne."
2. A privilege. What higher privilege or honour can be conferred than to hold intercourse with so glorious a Being? What greater benefit than his fellowship, counsel, and aid? (Psalms 73:28).
3. An obligation, arising out of his relationship to men, and indicated by his word, by conscience, and the deepest needs and impulses of the soul. "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you" (James 4:8; Psalms 43:4). "Ye people, pour out your heart before him" (Psalms 62:8).
II. THE VOCATION OF A FAITHFUL MINISTER with respect to this exercise. It is—
1. To bear a fearless testimony concerning it before the people: setting forth the supreme claims of God upon their homage, reminding them of their want, reproving their forgetfulness, and teaching them the good and right way (1 Samuel 12:23).
2. To exhibit a devotional spirit in his intercourse with them. He who exhorts others to pray should be himself a man of prayer, and speak to them by his example as well as by his words. Exhortation to them is often less beneficial than intercession for them. "We will give ourselves continually to prayer" (Acts 6:4).
3. To invite them to sincere union with him in seeking the face of God. "Let us draw near." "Let us pray"—not merely with the lips or in outward form, not regarding iniquity in the heart; but humbly and sincerely, with one accord, with a true heart, and in full assurance of faith (Psalms 66:18; 1 Timothy 2:8).
III. THE INFLUENCE OF TIMELY INTERVENTION On the part of a good man. "Then (when both king and people were about to set forth without seeking Divine counsel) said the priest," etc.; and he did not speak in vain (1 Samuel 14:37). Such advice and prayer are generally effectual—
1. In restraining from the pursuit of a wrong course—a doubtful or dangerous enterprise, devotion to worldly objects, following selfish and revengeful inclinations, etc. A single "word in season" sometimes prevents much mischief.
2. In constraining to the performance of neglected duty. The inquiry which Saul had broken off was now formally resumed, though not on his part in a right spirit.
3. In obtaining the possession of needful good. It is not always what is sought. There may be delay or refusal in granting a definite answer; but the experience thereby gained is itself beneficial, and the necessary condition of obtaining the highest good.
IV. THE INSTRUCTIVENESS OF UNANSWERED PRAYER. "He answered him not that day" (1 Samuel 28:6, 1 Samuel 28:15). The silence of God is significant. It indicates—
1. The presence of sin, which hinders the communications of Heaven, as a cloud intercepts the beams of the sun (Isaiah 59:2; Lamentations 3:44; Hosea 5:15; James 4:2, James 4:3).
2. The duty of its discovery, by means of diligent inquiry and self-examination (Joshua 7:13; Psalms 139:23, Psalms 139:24; Lamentations 3:40).
3. The necessity of humiliation, removing "the accursed thing," and turning to God with full purpose of heart, so that he may cause his face to shine upon us. "Praying will either make a man leave off sinning or sinning will make him leave off praying." In the former case his path is upward into the light, in the latter it is downward into darkness and despair.—D.
1 Samuel 14:45. (AJALON.)
Remonstrance with rulers.
The obedience which subjects owe to the commands of a ruler is not absolute, but limited by their obligation to a higher law. When he determines on measures which are not good they have a right to remonstrate, and are sometimes bound to do so. Concerning the remonstrance of the people with Saul (after yielding notable obedience in other things—1 Samuel 14:26, 1 Samuel 14:34, 1 Samuel 14:36), observe that it was—
I. JUST; in opposition to an unreasonable, arbitrary, and cruel decision (1 Samuel 14:44), in defence of the innocent, and impelled by "an enlightened conscience and generous enthusiasm."
II. DEVOUT; recognising the hand of God in the victory of Jonathan, testifying their gratitude for the deliverance wrought through him, and obeying a higher will, thereby indicated, in preference to that of the king.
III. RESOLUTE; whilst stating the ground of their determination, manifesting a disposition to carry it into effect, and binding themselves by a united and solemn oath to do so.
IV. SUCCESSFUL. They prevailed, Jonathan was rescued, a great crime was prevented, and Saul was checked and warned in his despotic career. When the people remonstrate in the same manner they may expect the same success.—D.
1 Samuel 14:45. (AJALON.)
Cooperation with God.
"He hath wrought with God this day." Apart from the power of God man can do nothing. In opposition to it he is defeated and crushed. Only in cooperation with it can he accomplish anything great or good. As in the material, so in the moral and spiritual world it is our wisdom, strength, and dignity to be "labourers together with God" (1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 6:1). Notice—
I. THE AIM of this cooperation.
1. To overcome sin and misery amongst men.
2. To promote righteousness and happiness in ourselves and others.
3. To extend the kingdom and glory of God.
II. THE MEANS.
1. Studying the laws or modes of God's working (Ecclesiastes 3:14) and the manifold intimations of his will.
2. Trusting in him, firmly resting on his promises, and patiently waiting their fulfilment. Oftentimes "our strength is to sit still."
3. Using with diligence the strength he gives, still depending on him "who worketh all in all" (1 Corinthians 12:6; Philippians 2:13; Isaiah 26:12).
III. THE RESULT.
1. Conscious approbation of God.
2. Effectual aid.
3. Certain achievement. "In due season we shall reap if we faint not."—D.
1 Samuel 14:47-52. (GIBEAH.)
Saul's sovereignty and wars, his army and family.
From this summary observe that—
I. THE PEOPLE OF GOD ARE BESET BY NUMEROUS ADVERSARIES. Moab, Ammon, etc.—"on every side," of varied character, imbued with the same enmity, and threatening their existence. Conflict is necessary to self-preservation.
II. THE CHASTISEMENT OF THE WICKED IS INFLICTED BY SUITABLE AGENTS, "And Saul took the kingdom," etc. "Whithersoever he turned himself he chastised them. For this work he was well qualified by warlike courage and skill, indomitable energy and zeal, and in it he met with success. God often employs men to carry out his purposes who possess little of the spirit of obedience.
III. DIVERSITY OF CHARACTER IS OFTEN MANIFESTED IN THE SAME CIRCUMSTANCES. "Now the sons of Saul were Jonathan, and Ishui (Abinadab), and Melchishua." The fourth, Esh-baal (Ishbosheth), is not here mentioned. "And the names of his two daughters were Merab and Michal," etc. (1 Samuel 14:49-51). What a contrast of character is presented in this family—e.g. between Jonathan and his father and sister (Michal). Hidden hereditary influences and special associations may have contributed to the difference, but much more the voluntary use or abuse of preliminary conditions, outward circumstances, and spiritual gifts.
IV. THE MISUSE OF POWER IS the RUIN OF ITS POSSESSOR. "He gathered a host" (1 Samuel 14:48), or acquired power. He formed a standing army, as it had been predicted (1 Samuel 8:11, 1 Samuel 8:16; 1 Samuel 22:7). He employed his power for his own aggrandisement. "If he could have done as he wished, there would have been an end to the supremacy of God in Israel. Rude despotism would have usurped its place" (Hengstenberg). Samuel's antagonistic working preserved the principle of the theocracy, and Saul's kingdom departed from him (Daniel 4:31).
V. THE PERVERSITY OF MEN INVOLVES THEM IN SORE DISTRESS. "There was sore war," etc. (1 Samuel 14:52). "Very different had been the state of things when Samuel ruled Israel (1 Samuel 7:13). And the people who looked for protection to an arm of flesh rather than to God, who was their King, were punished by that instrument—Saul—which they had chosen for themselves in order that they might be saved by it" (Wordsworth's 'Com.').
VI. THE KINGDOM OF GOD MUST PREVAIL OVER ALL OPPOSITION, whether from open adversaries or disloyal adherents. That which seems to hinder it is often made a means of its furtherance. The Divine purpose concerning it cannot be defeated. It endured, wrought, and was developed amidst all the vicissitudes of Israel's history until the advent of "the King Messiah," and it is still advancing toward its perfect and eternal consummation (1 Corinthians 15:24, 1 Corinthians 15:25).—D.
HOMILIES BY D. FRASER
1 Samuel 14:47, 1 Samuel 14:48
The restless king.
When a locomotive engine slips off the rails, it would do little harm if it could stop at once; but its momentum carries it forward. It ploughs up the way, it dashes over an embankment, and drags ever so many carriages and passengers to destruction. So is it with the deflection of a man of force and influence from the right course. If he would stop at once, or if he should soon die, the mischief might be small. But the momentum of his character and position drives him on; he goes further and further from the straight lines of righteousness, and in the end not only hurls himself on ruin, but pulls many after him to their hurt. It was so with king Saul. He sinned, and the prophet Samuel intimated to him the Lord's displeasure. Had the king stopped there, no great damage might have been done; but he could not stop. The vehemence of his nature, and what seemed to be the necessities of his position, drove him on. He became more and more arbitrary. So we see him in this chapter of the history issuing the most unreasonable restrictions and commands, lenient when he should have been strict, and severe when he should have been lenient. By his rashness he very nearly turned to mourning the signal triumph over the Philistines which crowned the faith and valour of Prince Jonathan, and from that day he fell even below his own subjects in his perception of right and wrong, forfeited their respect, and became more and more wayward and unreasonable. Yet he had successes—great successes as a warrior. His martial temper and skill did not leave him, and all the surrounding nations felt his heavy hand. Not content with defending the territory, Saul organised and disciplined the army of Israel, so as to be able to use it in aggressive war, and smite the nations which had at various periods oppressed his country. Whithersoever he turned himself he was victorious. And yet Saul did not conduct those wars or win those victories in a manner worthy of a servant of Jehovah. There is no trace of his having command or counsel from God. There is no reference to the fulness of Divine promise regarding the land such as one sees in the thoughts of David when he enlarged the territory of Israel till they possessed all that the Lord had assigned to the posterity of Abraham. Saul struck right and left as the mood seized him, and "whithersoever he turned himself" he conquered. This is worth noting. A man may have many successes in life; nay, may have them in the Church, and in vindication of sacred truth, yet not have them as a Christian ought, and so not please God. Especially may this be the case in ecclesiastical and theological controversy. One may be quite on the right side, and may strike heavy blows at errorists and heretics all round, just as he "turns himself," and yet have no communion with the God of truth whom he seems to sense, obey motives unworthy of a servant of Christ, and indulge a harsh and wilful temper such as God cannot approve. Restlessness indicates an undisciplined, unhallowed energy. Restfulness belongs to those who submit all their plans to God, and lay all their energies at his feet. No men are so deaf to expostulation and so hard of recovery as those who try to keep an accusing conscience quiet by ceaseless activity. They turn hither and smite, thither and smite again. Perhaps they attack what deserves to be smitten; but it is a bad sign of themselves that they are never still before the Lord, letting his word search them. Under ever so much noise of debate and controversy, what hollowness may lurk, what degeneracy! Alas, it is so easy to go wrong, and having gone wrong once, easier to do it again. And then it is so hard to accept blame before God or man, and to submit to correction. Why not brandish our swords, and show ourselves brave Christian soldiers? Will not this compensate for our faults? O foolish Saul! O more foolish followers of the restless, haughty king! Lord, keep us back from all presumptuous sin!—F.