THE BOOK OF 1 SAMUEL
Lesson 5: Chapters 14-15
The Heroism of Jonathan and the Decline of Saul
Most Holy and Divine King,
When the covenant people of Israel petitioned You for a king, You granted their petition, not by relinquishing Your authority as the divine king of all Creation, but by appointing an earthly king as Your anointed representative. Help us to remember, Lord, that our earthly rulers are subservient to Your divine authority and that our first allegiance and our obedience belong to You. Please send Your Holy Spirit to guide us in our lesson as King Saul contrives to use the Law and his own understanding to further his desires and ambitions and his failure to acknowledge his allegiance to You above all else. Save us Lord from the same temptations and failures. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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If you make a
vow to Yahweh your God, you must not be slack about fulfilling it: Yahweh your
God will certainly hold you answerable for it and you will incur guilt. If,
however, you make no vow you will not incur guilt. Whatever passes your lips
you must keep to and the vow that you have made to Yahweh, your generous God,
you must fulfil.
If anyone vows
the value of a person to Yahweh and wishes to discharge the vow: a man between
twenty and sixty years of age will be valued at fifty silver shekels, the
sanctuary shekel; a woman will be valued at thirty shekels; between five and
twenty years, a boy will be valued at twenty shekels, a girl at ten shekels;
between one month and five years, a boy will be valued at five silver shekels,
a girl at three silver shekels; at sixty years and over, a man will be valued
at fifteen shekels and a woman at ten shekels.
circumstances, with few weapons and Saul's fearful army, Jonathan, with an
audacious design and with his armor bearer as his only companion, entered the
camp of the enemy, and having slain about twenty of them, he spread a terror
throughout the whole army. And then, through the appointment of God, taking
themselves to flight, they neither carried out orders nor kept their ranks but
placed all the hope of safety in flight.
Sulpicus Severus, Sacred History, 1.33
The battle with the Philistines at Michmash is recounted in chapters 13-14. After mustering the tribes of Israel to fight the Ammonites, Saul apparently kept a standing army of three thousand soldiers following his victory at the Battle of Jabesh Gilead (13:2). The Israelites had eliminated the Ammonite threat but the Philistines remained a threat, and they took the opportunity to establish garrisons of Philistine warriors inside Israelite territory while Saul and the Israelites were occupied with the Ammonites. Jonathan successfully attacked the Philistine garrison at his home town of Gibeah and killed the Philistine governor.(1) Having lost their outpost at Gibeah, the Philistines quickly mobilized to launch a counterattack. At Samuel's command, Saul rallied his troops and called the Israelites to a religious assembly at Gilgal to make sacrifices to implore Yahweh's favor in the holy war that was about to commence against the Philistines (13:4).
In the meantime, the Philistines advanced and occupied the strategic pass at Michmash that controlled one of the main accesses to the Jordan River Valley (13:23). The Philistine threat so terrorized the local Israelites that they hid in caves and 1,400 of Saul's warriors deserted. Saul was so unnerved by these events that he failed his test of obedience. He disobeyed Samuel's command to wait seven days and took upon himself the responsibility for acting in the role of a priest by offering the sacrifices. The result was that Samuel condemned Saul's profane act and announced in obedience to God's command that Saul's dynasty would not endure.
God's judgment on Saul was not unjust. Saul had the obligation to be an example of righteousness to his people as God's kingly agent. He had failed his test of obedience; he failed to wait for Samuel and he took the prerogatives of the Aaronic priesthood upon himself in offering sacrifices. Ultimately, he failed to take to heart Samuel's warning that the people and their king must fear God, serve God and obey His commands (12:14-15). God had, through His prophet, clearly drawn the line of responsibility and Saul, by his own admission had knowingly over reached his authority and failed in obedience (1 Sam 13:12). Even though Saul suffered God's rejection of his dynastic kingship in favor of another who would take his place (13:14), this did not happen immediately. God did not abandoned Saul, and Saul continued to rule with Samuel at his side as his spiritual guide.
Chapter 14: The Battle with the Philistines
1 Samuel 14:1-14 ~ Jonathan attacks the Philistine Outpost
1 One day, Jonathan son of Saul said to his armor bearer, "Come on, let us go across to the Philistine outpost over on the other side." But he did not inform his father. 2 Saul was on the outskirts of Geba [hill/Gibeah?]*, sitting under the pomegranate tree that stands near the threshing-floor; the force with him numbered about six hundred men. 3 Ahijah son of Ahitub, brother of Icabod, son of Phinehas, son of Eli, the priest of Yahweh at Shiloh, was carrying the ephod. The force did not know that Jonathan had left. 4 In the pass that Jonathan was trying to cross to reach the Philistine outpost, there is a rocky spur on one side and a rocky spur on the other; one is called Bozez, the other Sench. 5 The first spur stands to the north facing Michmash, the other to the south facing Geba. 6 Jonathan said to his armor bearer, "Come on, let us go across to these uncircumcised people's outpost; perhaps Yahweh will do something for us, for Yahweh is free to grant deliverance through a few men, just as much as through many." 7 His armor bearer replied, "Do exactly as you think. I am with you; our hearts are as one." 8 Jonathan then said, "Look, we will go across to these people and let ourselves be seen. 9 If they say, Do not move until we come to you,' we shall stay where we are and not go up to them. 10 But if they say, Come up to us,' we shall go up, for that will be the sign for us that Yahweh has given them into our power." 11 When the two of them let themselves be seen by the Philistine outpost, the Philistines said, "Look, the Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have been hiding." 12 The men of the outpost then hailed Jonathan and his armor bearer. "Come up to us;" they said, "we have something to tell you." Jonathan then said to his armor bearer, "Follow me up; Yahweh has given them into the power of Israel." 13 Jonathan clambered up on hands and feet, with his armor bearer, coming behind, finished them off. 14 This first killing made by Jonathan and his armor bearer accounted for about twenty men...
* The text is unclear whether the Israelites are encamped with Saul at Geba across the ravine from Michmash or at Gibeah which is four miles away. Both Gibeah and Geba can be translated "hill." The NJB interprets that the site where Saul is with his soldiers as Geba which seems to makes sense in view of verse 16 where Saul's watchmen see the battle raging at Michmash. However, Saul's fortress where he rules is at Gibeah and his watchmen could have been stationed at Geba across the wadi from Michmash where they could see what was happening at Michmash and then sent word to Saul at Gibeah.
1 Samuel 14:1-2 ~ One
day, Jonathan son of Saul said to his armor bearer, "Come on, let us go across
to the Philistine outpost over on the other side." But he did not inform his
father. Saul was on the outskirts of Geba, sitting under the pomegranate tree
that stands near the threshing-floor; the force with him numbered about six
"One day" in verse 1 refers to the day that part of the Philistine army moved west to re-occupy the Michmash Pass (13:23) which was the strategic route into the Jordan River Valley that was overlooked by the towns of Michmash and Geba (13:16; 14:5). It is a maneuver to which Saul does not respond. Saul's campaign against the Philistines seems to have stalled. It is interesting that the narrative records that Saul is sitting under a tree (some translations render the verse "at [or near] Migron." The Hebrew bamigron means "at/near threshing floor."
Question: What significance did sitting under a
tree have in the Book of Judges? See Judges 4:5.
Answer: It is the usual place where the judges of Israel heard disputes and rendered judgment for God's people as in the case of the judge Deborah
Perhaps that is what Saul was doing since he was near a threshing floor. The relatively flat and level threshing floor was a good site for a gathering of people (1 Kng 22:10). There are also references in Scripture to the "threshing floor," as a symbol of judgment. The Jerusalem Temple will be built on what was once a threshing-floor (2 Sam 24:18-24; 1 Chr 13:9; 21:15-28; 2 Chr 3:1; Dan 2:35), and Jesus will speak of God's divine judgment of the righteous and the wicked using the same symbolic language of harvesting, winnowing and threshing in the division of the righteous from the wicked (Mt chapter 13).
Question: What contrast is presented between Saul
and his son Jonathan in verses 1-2?
Answer: Saul is sitting under a tree, carrying out "business as usual" while Jonathan has taken the initiative to continue attacking the Philistines.
The situation is serious. The Philistines are regrouping and resupplying the defeated garrison at the strategic point of the Michmash Pass within sight of the Israelite camp at Geba. The Israelites and Philistines are encamped on the tops of two steep peaks, facing each other with a deep wadi (dry river bed) or ravine running between them and with a clear view of each other's camps (see 14:16).
The narrative shows Jonathan replacing Saul as the
decisive leader (13:3; 14:1-15) and will also show him replacing his father in
the affection of the soldiers.
Question: This isn't the first time Jonathan has taken the initiative in Israel's war with the Philistines. When did Jonathan take the initiative before against Israel's enemy? See 13:3-4.
Answer: He killed the Philistine governor of the outpost at Gibeah which forced Saul to sound the trumpets to call the tribes of Israel to war.
Question: Why might Jonathan have decided to take
the initiative again in leading a two man raid against the Philistine camp
without getting permission from his father? See verse 4, 6, 12 and 17.
Answer: One wonders if Saul and his son have not argued about being inactive since Jonathan left the Israelite camp without receiving permission from his father. Perhaps Jonathan had not been able to convince his father to put his faith and trust in God to give them victory if they attacked the enemy.
As events unfold, it appears Saul and his son lack a good relationship. Saul seems to be more concerned about the six hundred warriors he has left rather than trusting God to give him victory. Jonathan's only concern is whether his mission is in accord with God's divine will (verses 6 and 10). Saul's six hundred are now contrasted with the two brave Israelites: Jonathan and his weapons bearer, and Jonathan's confidence that if Yahweh is with them they cannot fail (verse 12). The contrast between Saul and is son is further emphasized by the episode of Jonathan's act of faith and trust in the Lord being sandwiched between two incidents of Saul's acts of lack of faith and his disobedience in chapters 13 and 15.
1 Samuel 14: 3 ~ Ahijah son of Ahitub, brother of
Icabod, son of Phinehas, son of Eli, the priest of Yahweh at Shiloh, was
carrying the ephod.
Ahijah, the great-grandson of Eli, is serving as the high priest and has the high priestly ephod.
Question: What was the ephod? What was attached to the ephod that held two special devices? See Ex 28:6-30.
Answer: The ephod was the garment of the high priest to which was attached the breastplate of judgment that held the Urim and Thummim, the ocular devices used for determining the will of God.
1 Samuel 14:4-5 ~ In the pass that Jonathan was trying
to cross to reach the Philistine outpost, there is a rocky spur on one side and
a rocky spur on the other; one is called Bozez, the other Sench. 5 The first spur stands to the north
facing Michmash, the other to the south facing Geba.
The Philistines and the Israelites are encamped on the tops of two steep peaks (about 2000 feet above sea level), facing each other across a deep wadi (ravine). Bozez means "gleaming" and Sench means "thorny/thornbush." The names of the two peaks reflect the smooth, stony surface of the one and the inhospitable plant life covering the other. These names and verse 5 indicate how impossible it was to descend and then to climb the peaks.
1 Samuel 14:6 ~ Jonathan
said to his armor bearer, "Come on, let us go across to these uncircumcised
people's outpost; perhaps Yahweh will do something for us, for Yahweh is free
to grant deliverance through a few men, just as much as through many." 7 His armor bearer replied, "Do exactly
as you think. I am with you; our hearts are as one."
Question: Why does Jonathan contemptuously call the Philistines "uncircumcised"?
Answer: He is identifying the difference between the circumcised Israelites who are consecrated to Yahweh from the eighth day of their birth and the Philistines who are uncircumcised and worship false gods.
"...perhaps Yahweh will do something for us, for Yahweh is free to grant deliverance through a few men, just as much as through many." Jonathan's "perhaps" does not express his doubt of Yahweh's aid but is rather a confession that God is in charge and it is His will that is at work in their endeavor. Notice that Jonathan uses the divine name twice here. He will also invoke the divine name in verses 10 and 12, pointing to his intimate relationship with God and his trust and faith in God's will for his life.
Jonathan asks his weapons bearer to follow him across the
wadi and to trust that God will give them victory over a much greater force of
Question: How is Jonathan's confession of faith that numbers do not matter to his Lord and that God can provide deliverance threw few men as well as through many a contrast to Jonathan's father's concerns?
Answer: Saul was fearful of being able to achieve victory with only six hundred men, but Jonathan is willing to trust God with his life in attacking the enemy with only two men.
Jonathan's weapons bearer expresses his loyalty to Jonathan and also his confidence that he believes, like Jonathan, that if it is God's will they will succeed. Their "hearts are as one"; it is another reference to what Samuel has said about God desiring men whose hearts belong to Yahweh (12:20, 24; 13:14).
1 Samuel 14:8-10 ~ Jonathan
then said, "Look, we will go across to these people and let ourselves be seen.
9 If they say, 'Do not move
until we come to you,' we shall stay where we are and not go up to them. 10 But if they say, 'Come up to us,' we
shall go up, for that will be the sign for us that Yahweh has given them into
Jonathan forms a daring plan to gain the advantage over the Philistines. He and his weapons bearer will pretend to be deserters in order to gain access to the Philistine post at Michmash (14:1-16).
Question: What sign from God are they looking for that will indicate that God is with them in their mission?
Answer: If the Philistine guards invite them up to the outpost instead of coming down against them, they will take it as a sign that God approves of their mission and will give them victory.
Jonathan's intention is to draw the Philistines into a premature battle before the garrison can be fully reinforced. Jonathan and his companion are able to make their way unseen by the enemy down the slope by taking cover using the rocks, overhangs and crevasse, but once they reach the bottom of the wadi they will be exposed to the Philistine guards (verse 8).
1 Samuel 14:11-12 ~ When the two of them let
themselves be seen by the Philistine outpost, the Philistines said, "Look, the
Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have been hiding." 12 The men of the outpost then hailed
Jonathan and his armor bearer. "Come up to us;" they said, "we have something
to tell you."
Inspired by his exceptional trust in God, Jonathan and his companion managed to climb down the steep side of the cliff below Geba. When they reached the bottom, they allow themselves to be seen by the Philistine guards.
Question: What happened when they reached the bottom?
Answer: The Philistine guards saw them and unknowingly gave Jonathan the "sign" from God that he was looking for by telling them to "come up."
The Philistine guards comment in verse 11 confirms 13:6 that the Israelites were fearful and in hiding. The Philistines refer to Jonathan and his weapons bearer as "Hebrews"; it is the way their enemies refer to them ethnically, not acknowledging them as a unified people of Israelites (see 1 Sam 4:6, 9; 13:3, 19). The Philistine guards call out "Come up to us," but Jonathan and his companion respond "we have something to tell you," suggesting they are deserters.
1 Samuel 14:12b-14 ~ Jonathan then said to his armor bearer,
"Follow me up; Yahweh has given them into the power of Israel." 13 Jonathan clambered up on hands and
feet, with his armor bearer, coming behind, finished them off. 14 This first killing made by Jonathan
and his armor bearer accounted for about twenty men...
Then Jonathan and his weapons bearer climb up the other side of what was thought to be an impregnable, rocky height. While the Philistine guards wait for them, they apparently slip off to one side and make their way up the slope out of sight of the guards so they can come upon the Philistines undetected in a surprise attack. Putting his trust in God, Jonathan and his weapons bearer take the Philistine garrison at Michmash in a surprise attack.
1 Samuel 14:15-23 ~ Yahweh gives Israel Victory over
15 There was panic in the camp, in the field and throughout the army; outpost and raiding company too were panic-stricken; the earth quaked: it was a panic from Yahweh. 16 Saul's look-out men in Geba of Benjamin could see the camp scattering in all directions. 17 Saul then said to the force that was with him, "Call the roll and see who has left us." So they called the roll, and Jonathan and his armor bearer were missing. 18 Saul then said to Ahijah, "Bring the ephod," since he was the man who carried the ephod in Israel. 19 But while Saul was speaking to the priest, the turmoil in the Philistine camp grew worse and worse; and Saul said to the priest, "Withdraw your hand." 20 Saul and the whole force with him then formed up and advanced to where the fighting was going on: and there they all were, drawing their swords on one another in wild confusion. 21 Those Hebrews who had earlier taken service with the Philistines and had accompanied them into camp, now defected to the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. 22 Similarly, all those Israelites who had been hiding in the highlands of Ephraim, hearing that the Philistines were on the run, chased after them and joined in the fight. 23 That day Yahweh gave Israel the victory.
Question: What other sign did Jonathan and his
companion receive that God is with them?
Answer: God intervenes and throws the Philistine camp into panic by making the earth quake.
When Saul heard the sounds of battle in the Philistine camp, he realized some Israelite soldiers had managed to launch a surprise attack. He demanded a roll call to determine who was missing and discovered that his son and his son's weapons bearer were absent.
1 Samuel 14:18-19 ~ 18 Saul
then said to Ahijah, "Bring the ephod," since he was the man who carried the
ephod in Israel. 19 But
while Saul was speaking to the priest, the turmoil in the Philistine camp grew
worse and worse; and Saul said to the priest, "Withdraw your hand."
Question: When he heard the battle with the Philistines had been engaged, Saul was ready to consult Yahweh through the use of the Urim and Thummim as to whether he should join the battle. Why did he suddenly dismiss the priest from using the ocular devices to seek the will of God? See 13:3, 4.
Answer: The question that Saul probably would have put to Yahweh was whether he should join in the battle begun by Jonathan against the Philistines. The ocular devices would have given a "yes, go" or "no, don't go" answer. We can only speculate, but it appears Saul did not want to be told to withhold his forces.
Perhaps he wanted the victory to be his just as he took credit for the capture of Geba when Jonathan was the actual victor. This is more evidence of a serious flaw in Saul's character.
1 Samuel 14:20 ~ Saul
and the whole force with him then formed up and advanced to where the fighting
was going on: and there they all were, drawing their swords on one another in
Saul's forces joined in and pursued the Philistines who had been thrown into confusion (14:15), and drove them out of the hill country (14:31). Philistine power in the eastern hill country was broken when the Israelite army, with God's help, took the pass.
Question: How does God intervene to help the Israelites and when did God intervene in a similar way in the period of the Judges? See Judg 7:12, 19-22 and 1 Sam 7:10.
Answer: God causes so much confusion in the enemy camp that the Philistines turn their weapons on each other. It is reminiscent of the judge Gideon's defeat of the combined forces of the Midianites and Amalekites and the Israelite battle with the Philistines under Samuel's leadership.
What is interesting about the comparison to Gideon's great victory against the Midianites and Amalekites is that Gideon was greatly outnumbered and with God's help defeated the combined forces of his enemies with only three hundred men. Perhaps this was the battle Jonathan was thinking of when he made his statement of faith in verse 6.
1 Samuel 14:21-23 ~ Those
Hebrews who had earlier taken service with the Philistines and had accompanied
them into camp, now defected to the Israelites who were with Saul and
Jonathan. 22 Similarly, all
those Israelites who had been hiding in the highlands of Ephraim, hearing that
the Philistines were on the run, chased after them and joined in the fight. 23 That day Yahweh gave Israel the
Some Israelites under the domination of the Philistines were either conscripted as soldiers or as laborers. They are called "Hebrews" because that is how the Philistines referred to them. These men now turn against the Philistines and join the Israelite warriors. Verse 23 confirms 13:6-7 and 14:11. Other Israelites who had been in hiding also join in pursuit of the Philistines.
1 Samuel 14:24-30 ~ Saul Makes a Foolish Vow
24 The fighting reached the other side of Beth-Horon. As the men of Israel were hard-pressed that day, Saul pronounced this imprecation over the people, "A curse on anyone who eats food before evening, before I have taken revenge on my enemies!" So none of the people so much as tasted food. 25 Now there was a honeycomb out in the open. 26 The people came to the honeycomb, the honey was dripping out, but no one put a hand to his mouth, the people being in awe of the oath. 27 Jonathan, however, not having heard his father bind the people with the oath, reached with the end of the stick which he was carrying, thrust it into the honeycomb and put it to his mouth; whereupon his eyes grew brighter. 28 One of the people then spoke up. "Your father," he said, "has bound the people with this oath: A curse on anyone who eats anything today.'" 29 "My father has brought trouble on the country," Jonathan replied, "See how much brighter my eyes are for having eaten this mouthful of honey. 30 By the same token, if the people had been allowed to eat some of the booty which they had captured from the enemy today, would not the defeat of the Philistines have been all the greater?"
Beth-Horon was a city of refuge assigned to the Levitical family of Kohath located west of Geba and Michmash near the western border of the tribe of Benjamin (Josh 18:13-14; 21:22). There were twin cities of Upper and Lower Beth-Horon that guarded the major pass on the road from the coast by way of the Valley of Aijalon to the hill country. Because of its strategic location, Beth-Horon was the site of several major battles. For example, during the early years of the conquest Joshua chased the Amorite kings from Gibeon by way of the "ascent" of Beth-Horon or Upper Beth-Horon (Josh 10:10-11).
1 Samuel 14:24b ~ As the men of Israel were
hard-pressed that day, Saul pronounced this imprecation over the people, "A
curse on anyone who eats food before evening, before I have taken revenge on my
enemies!" So none of the people so much as tasted food.
A fast is sometimes imposed in the attempt to strengthen prayer or to gain divine favor by offering a personal sacrifice of food. Once again Saul is rash and presumptuous in his relationship with Yahweh, and he tries to manipulate divine will through ritual (14:24; 15:15).
Saul is imposing a fast in an effort to force God to give his army victory similar to the way the judge Jephthah tried to use a vow to manipulate God to give him victory (Judg 11:30-31). The Israelite soldiers were "hard pressed" because they suffered from hunger as a result of the vow imposed on them.
1 Samuel 14:25-27 ~ Now
there was a honeycomb out in the open. 26
The people came to the honeycomb, the honey was dripping out, but
no one put a hand to his mouth, the people being in awe of the oath. 27 Jonathan, however, not having heard
his father bind the people with the oath, reached with the end of the stick
which he was carrying, thrust it into the honeycomb and put it to his mouth;
whereupon his eyes grew brighter.
Not knowing about the vow Saul had made concerning the fast during the battle, Jonathan ate the honey he found in a honeycomb. That Jonathan's "eyes brew brighter" is an idiom for the energizing effect of eating the honey.
Question: When the warriors told Jonathan about
the curse, what was his response?
Answer: Jonathan criticized his father's action, rightly pointing out that is was foolish to deprive the warriors of the energy they needed for the battle because they would have had more strength to pursue the enemy.
Jonathan's assessment was correct. Instead of pursuing the enemy, the soldiers were so hungry that they immediately began slaughtering and eating animals in the enemy camp.
1 Samuel 14:31-35 ~ The Hungry Warriors Commit a
31 That day the Philistines were beaten from Michmash all the way to Aijalon, until the people were utterly exhausted. 32 The people flung themselves on the booty and, taking sheep, bullocks and calves, slaughtered them there on the ground and ate them with the blood. 33 Saul was informed, "The people are sinning against Yahweh by eating with the blood!" He said, "You have not kept faith! Roll me a large stone here!" 34 Saul then said, "Scatter among the people and say, 'Everyone is to bring his bullock or his sheep to me here.' You will slaughter them here and eat, and not sin against Yahweh by eating with the blood." Each individual brought what he happened to have that night, and they all slaughtered in the same place. 35 Saul built an altar to Yahweh; it was the first altar he had built to Yahweh.
The psychological shock of Jonathan's success brought about a reversal in the battle with the Philistines. However, the Israelite warriors only pursued the Philistines as far as Aijalon, a valley and city that had originally been allotted to the tribe of Dan (Josh 19:42) and which was the Philistine pathway into the hill country. It is best remembered as the site of the miracle of the stationary sun in Joshua's battle with the coalition of five Amorite kings in the Vale of Aijalon (Josh 10:12-15). The warriors exhausted condition, exacerbated by lack of food, made them unable to continue the pursuit of the enemy any farther than Aijalon, causing Saul to forfeit what could have been a resounding victory instead of a holding action that merely pushed the Philistines back into their own territory.
Question: Depriving the warriors of food was
foolish because they were starving and weak after a day of intense physical
exertion, but what other problem did the vow cause? See verse 33.
Answer: The warriors were so starved by the end of the day that they violated the prohibition against eating raw flesh with the blood still in it.
Question: What was the command concerning
consuming raw flesh or blood and what was the penalty? Gen 9:3-4; Lev 3:17;
7:26; 17:10-12, 14; 19:26; Dt 12:16, 23-28.
Answer: It was utterly forbidden since the time of the covenant with Noah for the people of God to consume raw flesh or to drink blood. The penalty for such a violation was excommunication.
Question: What was the purpose of blood in the
ritual of worship and why? Lev 17:11 and Lev 1:4-5, 10-11; 3:1-2, 6-8, 12-13.
Answer: The blood of the sacrifice belongs to God; it is offered to God by being poured out in front of the altar for the expiation /atonement of the personal sins of the offerer or in a communal sacrifice for the sins of the covenant people.
Question: In the New Covenant liturgy of worship,
to whom does the "blood" belong? What is its purpose? See Mt 26:28; CCC 1365,
Answer: Through the miracle of transubstantiation, the wine offered becomes the precious Blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus shed His blood on the altar of the Cross in atonement for the sins of mankind and His Blood is poured out in front of the altar in the celebration of the Mass to the New Covenant faithful for the expiation of their sins and for their sanctification as they become one with the life of the Most Holy Trinity.
Question: To stop the covenant violation what did
Saul tell the warriors to do and why?
Answer: He told them to bring all the animals and slaughter them on a rock. By slaughtering on the ground the animal's blood will not drain out properly, but by slaughtering on a rock, the blood can drain out and flow down, leaving the meat fit for eating according to the Law.
1 Samuel 14:35 ~ Saul built an altar to Yahweh; it was
the first altar he had built to Yahweh.
Once again Saul takes upon himself a priestly prerogative in building an altar to Yahweh without being commanded to do so by God.
1 Samuel 14:36-42 ~ The Urim and Thummim are Consulted
36 Saul said, "Let us go down under cover of dark and plunder the Philistines until dawn; we shall not leave one of them alive." "Do whatever you think right," they replied. But the priest said, "Let us approach God here." 37 Saul consulted God, "Shall I go down and pursue the Philistines? Will you hand them over to Israel?" But he gave him no reply that day. 38 Saul then said, "Come forward, all you leaders of the people; consider carefully where today's sin may lie; 39 for as Yahweh lives who gives victory to Israel, even if the sin lies with Jonathan my son, he shall be put to death." But not one out of all the people answered. 40 He then said to all Israel, "Stand on one side, and I and Jonathan my son will stand on the other." And the people replied to Saul, "Do as you think right." 41 Saul then said, "Yahweh, God of Israel, why did you not answer your servant today? Yahweh, God of Israel, if the fault lies with me or with my son Jonathan, give Urim: if the fault lies with your people Israel, give Thummim." Jonathan and Saul were indicated and the people went free. 42 Saul said, "Cast the lot between me and my son Jonathan." And Jonathan was indicated.
At the suggestion of the high priest, Saul inquires of
God about the prospects for pursuing the enemy as in 14:18.
Question: What assumption does Saul make when an answer is not forthcoming? What action does Saul take?
Answer: When an answer is not forthcoming, Saul assumes that the answer has failed because of some hidden sin that has offended Yahweh. He demands that the guilty party must be exposed.
1 Samuel 14:38-39 ~ Saul
then said, "Come forward, all you leaders of the people; consider carefully
where today's sin may lie; 39 for
as Yahweh lives who gives victory to Israel, even if the sin lies with Jonathan
my son, he shall be put to death." But not one out of all the people answered.
Question: The sin is unknown, but why does Saul immediately assume it was Jonathan who is at fault? It is an accusation he will repeat in verse 41.
Answer: Saul knows that Jonathan was not in the camp when he made his vow and therefore he may assume it is Jonathan who unknowingly broke the vow.
There is more to this episode than a broken vow; it is another test for Saul. The first was a test of obedience to Yahweh's command spoken through His prophet, Samuel. Now the test is the use and abuse of the justice of the Law.
The Urim (correct Hebrew rendering with the ) accused and condemned but the Thummim pronounced acquittals. They were kept in the "breastplate of judgment" on the high priest's ephod (Ex 28:30; Lev 8:8). They also represented the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet: the of Urim and the t for Thummim (McCarter, Jr., 1 Samuel, Anchor Bible, page 250).
Question: When it was discovered that the lot fell
on Jonathan, what was Saul's solution to the problem?
Answer: That Jonathan should die.
Unfortunately, Saul's rash and headstrong manner characterizes everything he does. Saul's character is flawed by a lack of good judgment and a rashness and impetuosity which compromises his own purposes. In verse 39 Saul says: "... for as Yahweh lives who gives victory to Israel, even if the sin lies with Jonathan my son, he shall be put to death." Does Saul say this because he knows it is likely Jonathan who violated the vow because he didn't know about it? Notice how the inspired writer builds up the tension with the people's silence in verse 39b. The soldiers know it is Jonathan who unknowingly ate in violation of the vow since the soldiers who witnessed it have told the others (see verse 28), but no one is willing to condemn him to Saul.
There is a curious pattern in Saul's pursuit of knowledge. He is consequently seeking knowledge of what is about to happen (as in his quest for a prophet to help him find the missing donkeys), but his desire for knowledge is repeatedly withheld. And here is another contrast: this time between Saul's forgiveness for those who did not support his kingship that was extended after his victory over Nahash and the Ammonites and now Saul's refusal to show mercy to his own son. At first he was humble and merciful but now he is autocratic and cruel.
1 Samuel 14:43-45 ~ Jonathan is Accused of Breaking
43 "I only tasted a mouthful of honey off the end of the stick which I was carrying. But I am ready to die." 44 Saul said, "May God bring unnamable ills on me, and worse ones too, if you do not die, Jonathan!" 45 But the people said to Saul, "Must Jonathan die after winning this great victory for Israel? We will never allow that! As Yahweh lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground, for his deeds today have been done with the help of God." And so the people ransomed Jonathan and he was not put to death.
It cannot be ignored that Saul knew Jonathan was not in the camp when he made the vow because Jonathan's absence had been revealed in the roll call (1 Sam 14:17). In making the vow, Saul could have exempted any warrior who was not within the scope of his pronouncement. He also could have given a pardon to Jonathan and his armor bearer and declared that they were not subject to the vow since they had not heard the pronouncement. The first precept of the Law was obedience and the second was justice tempered by mercy. It was unjust to condemn Jonathan. In verse 44 Saul even swears an oath than Jonathan must die.
Saul is clearly manipulating the law concerning the fulfillment of vows. According to the Law, a vow was binding if made in the name of Yahweh: If you make a vow to Yahweh your God, you must not be slack about fulfilling it: Yahweh your God will certainly hold you answerable for it and you will incur guilt. If, however, you make no vow you will not incur guilt. Whatever passes your lips you must keep to and the vow that you have made to Yahweh, your generous God, you must fulfil (Dt 23:22-24/21-23). However, God understood that sometimes a person regretted making a vow and in that case a person could be redeemed from a vow: If anyone vows the value of a person to Yahweh and wishes to discharge the vow: a man between twenty and sixty years of age will be valued at fifty silver shekels ... (Lev 27:2b-3).
In addition, the punishment for the violation of a law could not exceed the seriousness of the crime. The command "an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth" was meant to limit excessive punishments (Ex 21:24; Lev 24:17-20; Dt 19:21). In Latin this law is called the Lex Talionis; it is the law of reciprocity or equivalent compensation. For example, a man who stole bread had to make restitution and pay a fine, but he could not be maimed, nor lose his life, nor could his family suffer for his crime. There was a lack of proportion between Jonathan's innocent violation and the proposed punishment. Johnathan broke a vow of which he had no knowledge and therefore, according to the law, he could not be put to death. However, he could be redeemed from the vow.
Question: Jonathan defends himself by testifying
that he did not know about the vow, but why does he then submit to his father's
Answer: Because he completely trusts God with his destiny and his life.
Question: What action did the Israelite soldiers
take? See verse 45 and Lev 27:2b-3.
Answer: They refused to let Saul kill Jonathan. The soldiers redeemed him by paying the redemption price under the Law which was fifty silver shekels.
Question: What comparison can be made between
Jonathan and Jesus?
Answer: Jonathan is the heroic "savior figure" in this narrative, but unlike Jesus, his own people united together in opposition to the authority of their leader to save him from an unjust death.
One cannot help but wonder if Saul acted out of ignorance
of the Law, or stubbornness, or was there another reason for his determination
to execute Jonathan that is more sinister.
Question: What other reasons besides ignorance of the law and unreasonable adherence to a rash vow could have motivated Saul to kill his son? Take into consideration that Saul stopped the priest from consulting Yahweh about joining the battle because he wanted to lead the army in the fight.
Answer: There are three possible reasons. It could be one or all three:
Later we will learn more about Saul's fragile ego and his problem with jealousy in his relationship with David of Bethlehem.
1 Samuel 14:47-52 ~ Summary of Saul's Reign
47 Saul consolidated his rule over Israel and made war on all his enemies on all fronts: on Moab, the Ammonites, Edom, the king of Zobah and the Philistines; whichever way he turned, he was victorious. 48 He did great deeds of valor; he defeated the Amalekites and delivered Israel from those who used to pillage him. 49 Saul's sons were: Jonathan, Ishvi and Malchishua. 50 The names of his two daughters were: the elder, Merab, and the younger Michal. The name of Saul's wife was Ahinoam daughter of Ahimaaz. The name of his army commander was Abner son of Ner, Saul's uncle. 51 Kish father of Saul, and Ner father of Abner were the sons of Abiel. 52 There was fierce warfare with the Philistines throughout Saul's life. Any strong or valiant man who caught Saul's eye, he recruited into his service.
1 Samuel 14:47-48 summarizes Saul's deeds as King of Israel in terms of his military victories over Israel's enemies. God had withdrawn His favor from Saul but He did not withdraw His favor from Israel and the Israelites continued to defeat their enemies under Saul's leadership (see the chart of Saul's military victories in the handout). He successfully fought the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Edomites, the Philistines, the Amalekites (covered in detail in 1 Sam 11; 13-14; 15; 17; 28-31), and the king of Zobah (one of the independent city-states of the Aramaeans /Syrians in the valley of Lebanon). All these enemies with the exception of the Philistines lived outside the boundaries of the Promised Land.
At this time in his career, Saul had three sons and two daughters by his wife. Later his wife will give him two more sons: Abinadab and Eshbaal/Ishbaal. He will also have two other sons by a concubine (2 Sam 3:7). Saul's second son, Ishvi/Ishye (man of Yahweh) may have died in childhood because he is not mentioned again and is not listed in the genealogy found in 1 Chronicles 8:33. Saul's youngest son will later be called both Ishbaal ("man of the master/lord" in 1 Chr 8:33) and Ishbosheth ("man of shame" in 2 Sam 2:8).
1 Samuel 14:49b-51 ~ The name of his army commander
was Abner son of Ner, Saul's uncle. 51 Kish
father of Saul, and Ner father of Abner were the sons of Abiel.
Abner (rendered Abener in some translations which is a variant vocalization of Abner) was Saul's cousin and closest friend. He will loyally serve as Saul's chief military commander throughout Saul's reign.
1 Samuel 14:52 ~ There
was fierce warfare with the Philistines throughout Saul's life. Any strong or
valiant man who caught Saul's eye, he recruited into his service.
Saul has continued success on the eastern front in his war to hold back the Philistines advance into Israelite lands, but he ultimately is unable to conquer their five city-states along coast.
Any strong or valiant man who caught Saul's eye, he
recruited into his service.
This line indicates the movement away from a volunteer fighting force in place of a professional army through continuous military conscription.
Question: What warning of the disadvantages of a monarchy that Samuel gave in 8:10-18 is fulfilled in verse 52b?
Answer: In 8:11-12 Samuel warned: "This is what [the right of] the king who is to reign over you will do. He will take your sons and direct them to his chariotry and cavalry, and they will run in front of his chariot. 12 He will use them as leaders of a thousand and leaders of fifty..." This warning is now fulfilled.
In the next episode we continue to see the cracks in Saul's character and his continued failure in his relationship with God.
Chapter 15: Israel's Holy War against the Amalekites
But as regards
the towns of those peoples whom Yahweh your God is giving you as your heritage,
you must not spare the life of any living thing. Instead, you must lay them
under the curse of destruction [herem]: Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites,
Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, as Yahweh your God has commanded, so that
they may not teach you to do all the detestable things which they do to honor
their gods; in doing these, you would sin against Yahweh your God.
Amalek treated you when you were on your way out of Egypt. He met you on your
way and, after you had gone by, he fell on you from the rear and cut off the
stragglers; when you were faint and weary, he had no fear of God. When Yahweh
your God has granted you peace from all the enemies surrounding you, in the
country given you by Yahweh your God to own as your heritage, you must blot out
the memory of Amalek under heaven. Do not forget.
1 Samuel 15:1-9 ~ God Commands Saul to Punish the
1 Samuel said to Saul, "I am the man whom Yahweh sent to anoint you as king of his people Israel, so now listen to the words [voice* of the words] of Yahweh. 2 This is what Yahweh Sabaoth says, 'I intend to punish what Amalek did to Israel, laying a trap for him on the way as he was coming up from Egypt. 3 Now, go and crush Amalek; put him under the curse of destruction [herem] with all that he possesses. Do not spare him, but kill man and woman, babe and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'" 4 Saul summoned the people and reviewed them at Telaim: two hundred thousand foot soldiers (and ten thousand men of Judah). 5 Saul advanced on the town of Amalek and lay in ambush in the river bed. 6 Saul said to the Kenites, "Go away, leave your homes among the Amalekites, in case I destroy you with them; you acted with faithful love [hesed = faithful covenant love] towards all Israelites when they were coming up from Egypt." So the Kenites moved away from the Amalekites. 7 Saul then crushed the Amalekites, beginning at Havilah in the direction of Shur, which is to the east of Egypt [the Brook of Egypt]. 8 He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive and executed the curse of destruction [herem], put all the people to the sword. 9 But Saul and the army spared Agag with the best of the sheep and cattle, the fatlings and lambs and all that was good. They did not want to consign these to the curse of destruction [herem] they consigned only what was poor and worthless. [..] = literal translation IBHE, vol. II, page 748. * kol means "voice" or "sound."
There is no indication how many years have passed since Israel's victory at the second Battle of Michmash Pass. The key Hebrew word in this chapter is kol/qol, which has the double meaning of "voice" and "sound." Saul has been commanded to literally listen to the "voice" of Yahweh (literal translation in Samuel's discourse in 12:14, 15). But now Samuel tells Saul that all that can be heard is the bleating and lowing "sounds/voices" of the flocks and herds which according to God's voice should have been destroyed in consecration to God in their victory of the Amalekite holy war. See the word kol repeated six times in 14:1, 14, 19, 20, 22, and 24.
Question: What is Samuel's point in verse 1?
Answer: In verse 1 Samuel reminds Saul that he is God's kingmaker. Even though Saul is the king of Israel who was anointed by Samuel, it is by Yahweh's divine will that his kingship was granted, and it is to the voice of Yahweh through His prophet that Saul must obey.
1 Samuel 15:2-3 ~ This
is what Yahweh Sabaoth says, I intend to punish what Amalek did to Israel,
laying a trap for him on the way as he was coming up from Egypt. 3 Now, go and crush Amalek; put him under
the curse of destruction [herem] with all that he possesses. Do not spare him,
but kill man and woman, babe and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'"
"Yahweh Sabaoth", translated "Yahweh of Hosts [armies]," is God's warrior-god title. The grimmest of the commands of an Israelite holy war was the imposition of herem, the total destruction of the enemy and all he possessed; however, according to Deuteronomy 20:10-18, the ban of herem (the "curse of destruction") was only in effect for Canaanite cities.
Question: Why were the Amalekites an exception?
See Ex 17:8-14 and Dt 25:17-19
Answer: The Amalekites were an exception because of their attack on the Israelites as they fled out of Egypt, first attacking the defenseless women and children and the elderly in the rear of the column.
Israel's conquest of Canaan was not only to fulfill God's promise to the Patriarchs to give them the land, but the Israelites also become God's instrument of divine justice in destroying the depraved Canaanite population for their crimes against humanity which included the murder of untold numbers of children offered in sacrifice to the Canaanite gods (Lev 18:21; 20:2-5). The Amalekites were a violent people who showed no mercy to their enemies, including the disembowelment of pregnant women and children when they raided villages without provocation (Judg 6:1-6; 1 Sam 15:33; 30:1-20). God not only hears the cries of the Israelites when they are in despair but the cries of all peoples of every ethnicity who suffer as victims of injustice or oppression. It is the blood of the innocent that cries out to God for justice. For the Canaanites and the Amalekites, the army of Israel was the vehicle of God's divine judgment for sins against humanity.
Question: What was the first time that the blood
of an innocent victim cried out to God for justice? See Gen 4:10.
Answer: God told Cain that He could hear the blood of Abel crying out from the ground.
Herem (the curse of destruction) was a form of proscription that was also practiced by other peoples of the ancient Near East. It was an act of consecrating the victory and all the fruits of the victory to the victor's deity, including all living things, livestock and people, and their belongings. However, in Hebrew the word herem had a double meaning. The verb he herim, "to put under the curse/ban (of destruction)," can also mean "to consecrate," "be separate," or "sacred." All the guilty were cursed but the innocent who lost their lives in a holy war were consecrated to God.
Question: What was the origin of the Amalekites?
See Gen 36:15-16.
Answer: They were the descendants of Amalek who was the grandson of Esau (son of Isaac and Rebekah and twin brother of Jacob).
The Amalekites inhabited territory God assigned to Israel, principally the lands of the tribe of Judah in the Negeb, and the Transjordan tribes. They were probably nomadic or semi-nomadic. They were the first people to attack the migrating Israelites and their families on their exodus out of Egypt after crossing the Red Sea (Ex 17:8-16). God told the Israelites that the Amalekites were to be considered Israel's perpetual enemies (Ex 17:14; Dt 25:19).
1 Samuel 15:4-7 ~ Saul
summoned the people and reviewed them at Telaim: two hundred thousand foot
soldiers (and ten thousand men of Judah). 5
Saul advanced on the town of Amalek and lay in ambush in the
river bed. 6 Saul said to
the Kenites, "Go away, leave your homes among the Amalekites, in case I destroy
you with them; you acted with faithful love [hesed = faithful covenant love]
towards all Israelites when they were coming up from Egypt." So the Kenites
moved away from the Amalekites. 7 Saul
then crushed the Amalekites, beginning at Havilah in the direction of Shur,
which is to the east of Egypt [the Brook of Egypt].
Saul gathered his army at Telaim. It may be the same site as Telem, a city in the Negeb that was given to the tribe of Judah (Josh 15:24). The thousands of warriors who deserted Saul at Gilgal (13:2, 15) have now returned after his victory at the Battle of Michmash. The Israelites were to ambush the Amalekites as they were coming to the north from the Brook of Egypt out of the Wilderness of Shur, a desert region in the Sinai Peninsula east of the present Suez Canal. The Brook of Egypt marked the traditional southern boundary of the Promised Land (Num 34:5). Today it is known as the modern Wadi el- Arish which drains into the Mediterranean Sea about fifty miles south of Gaza.
The Israelites formed their ranks unseen in a dry river bed. The "town of Amalek" was apparently their capital in the Negeb. Havilah is difficult to identify since the name is given to more than one region. Genesis 2:11 places it in Eden; Genesis 10:7 and 1 Chronicles relate Havilah to a region in southern Mesopotamia, and Genesis 25:18 places it in northeast Arabia where the Ishmaelites "dwelt from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt."(2)
1 Samuel 15:6 ~ Saul
said to the Kenites, "Go away, leave your homes among the Amalekites, in case I
destroy you with them; you acted with faithful love [hesed = faithful covenant
love] towards all Israelites when they were coming up from Egypt."
Saul warned the Kenites so they would not be caught between the two armies.
Question: Who were the Kenites? Why did Saul warn them? See Num 10:29-32; Josh 14:14; Judg 1:16 and 4:11.
Answer: They were the descendants of Moses' brother-in-law Hobab. Moses promised his brother-in-law a covenant with Israel and land in the Promised Land if he would lead the Israelites through the wilderness. The Israelites honored that promise and the tribe of Judah settled the Kenites in the southern boundary of their territory as resident aliens who were in covenant with Israel.
The word "hesed" in the Hebrew text of verse 6 means "faithful covenant love." It was the kind of love relationship God promised the Israelites in covenant with Him and the kind of love He expected from Israel in return. This same fidelity of covenant love was extended to the Kenites for their kindness to Israel.(3)
1 Samuel 15:10-23 ~ Saul is rejected by Yahweh
10 The word of Yahweh came to Samuel, 11 "I regret having made Saul king, since he has broken his allegiance to me and not carried out my orders." Samuel was appalled and cried to Yahweh all night long. 12 In the morning, Samuel set off to find Saul. Samuel was told, "Saul has been to Carmel, to raise himself a monument there, but now has turned about, moved on and gone down to Gilgal." 13 When Samuel reached Saul, Saul said, "May you be blessed by Yahweh! I have carried out Yahweh's orders." 14 Samuel replied, "Then what is this bleating of sheep in my ears and the [kol = sound of] lowing of cattle that I hear?" 15 Saul said, "They have been brought from Amalek, the people having spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice them to Yahweh, your God; the rest we have consigned to the curse of destruction." 16 Samuel then said to Saul, "Stop! Let me tell you what Yahweh said to me last night." He said, "Go on." 17 Samuel said, "Small as you may be in your own eyes, are you not the leader of the tribes of Israel? Yahweh has anointed you as king of Israel. 18 When Yahweh sent you on a mission he said to you, 'Go and put those sinners, the Amalekites, under the curse of destruction [herem] and make war on them until they are exterminated.' 19 Why then did you not obey Yahweh's voice [kol]? Why did you fall on the booty and do what is wrong in Yahweh's eyes?" 20 Saul replied to Samuel, "But I did obey Yahweh's voice [kol]. I went on the mission which Yahweh gave me; I brought back Agag king of the Amalekites; I put Amalek under the curse of destruction [herem]; 21 and from the booty the people have taken the best sheep and cattle of what was under the curse of destruction only to sacrifice them to Yahweh your God in Gilgal." 22 To which, Samuel said: "Is Yahweh pleased by burnt offerings and sacrifices or by obedience to Yahweh's voice [kol]? Truly, obedience is better than sacrifice, submissiveness than the fat of rams. 23 Rebellion is a sin of sorcery, presumption a crime of idolatry! Since you have rejected Yahweh's word, he has rejected you as king." Kol, voice or sound. IBHE, vol. II, pages 749-50.
Samuel is devastated when God tells him "I regret having made Saul king, since he has broken his allegiance to me and not carried out my orders." This is not God's admission of having made an error in choosing Saul, but it is instead an expression of God's sorrow over the wrong choices Saul made and the condition of his relationship with God that has cost him the destiny God had planned for him. Samuel's grief shows that he saw Saul's failure as his own.
Question: The next day when Samuel goes to look
for Saul where is he told Saul has gone and for what purpose? How does Saul's
action compare to Moses and Joshua after military victories?
Answer: Saul has gone to raise a personal monument to his victory. It is another demonstration of putting himself before God by claiming the victory as his alone. His action is in contrast to Moses and Joshua who always gave God the credit for the victory and raised no monuments to themselves.
Carmel is not Mt. Carmel in the north near the coast of the Mediterranean. This Carmel is a town to the south of Hebron on the way back from the Negeb to Gilgal. The first thing Saul announces to Samuel when they meet is that he has carried out Yahweh's orders, which Samuel sarcastically points out is clearly not true since the Israelites were supposed to put all living things under the ban of herem and he can hear the bleating of sheep and the sound (kol) of the lowing of cattle.
As in 13:8-14, Saul and Samuel clash over the king's insubordination to the prophet which is also insubordination to God. This is only the first of many clashes between kings and prophets and emphasizes the opposition inherent between the role of the agent-king who is the head of the profane secular politics of the Israelite monarchy and the demands of Yahweh, Israel's divine king, and His divinely appointed agent, the prophet. Other clashes will take place between King Ahab and Elijah, King Hezekiah and Isaiah, and King Zedekiah and Jeremiah.
1 Samuel 15:16-19 ~ 16 Samuel
then said to Saul, "Stop! Let me tell you what Yahweh said to me last night."
He said, "Go on." 17 Samuel
said, "Small as you may be in your own eyes, are you not the leader of the
tribes of Israel? Yahweh has anointed you as king of Israel. 18 When Yahweh sent you on a mission he
said to you, 'Go and put those sinners, the Amalekites, under the curse of
destruction [herem] and make war on them until they are exterminated." 19 Why then did you not obey Yahweh's
voice [kol]? Why did you fall on the booty and do what is wrong in Yahweh's
In verse 17 "small in your own eyes" refers to 9:21 when a younger, humble Saul marveled that he, from the smallest tribe of Benjamin, was being accorded royal treatment. Verse 19 is the third use of the word kol, "voice" with Samuel's condemnation and rhetorical question to Saul as to why he did not obey Yahweh's voice.
Question: Samuel's question: "Why did you fall
on the booty and do what is wrong in Yahweh's eyes?" recalls what command
of Yahweh in Deuteronomy 12:28 and 13:19 and what failure repeated eight times
in the Book of Judges (Judg 3:7; 12 twice; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1)?
Answer: The Israelites were commanded to obey the "voice of Yahweh" and to "do what was right in the eyes of Yahweh your God" but instead the Israelites like Saul in this episode continued to do "what was evil in the eyes of Yahweh."
1 Samuel 15:20-21 ~ Saul
replied to Samuel, "But I did obey Yahweh's voice [kol]. I went on the mission
which Yahweh gave me; I brought back Agag king of the Amalekites; I put Amalek
under the curse of destruction [herem]; 21
and from the booty the people have taken the best sheep and
cattle of what was under the curse of destruction only to sacrifice them to
Yahweh your God in Gilgal."
The key word "voice" is repeated a fourth time in verse 20.
Question: What two excuses does Saul repeat in his self-defense? See verse 15 (notice the "they" and the "we" in the verse) and repeated in 20-21.
The first excuse is contrary to verse 9 and the second, while it turns out to be true (see verses 24-25) is still a violation since:
In addition, according to Samuel, Saul's whole reason for offering the "best of the animals" turns out to be theologically unacceptable (see verses 22-23; Ps 51:16-17).
1 Samuel 15:22-23 ~ To
which, Samuel said: "Is Yahweh pleased by burnt offerings and sacrifices or by
obedience to Yahweh's voice [kol]? Truly, obedience is better than sacrifice,
submissiveness than the fat of rams. 23 Rebellion
is a sin of sorcery, presumption a crime of idolatry! Since you have rejected
Yahweh's word, he has rejected you as king."
Samuel climaxes his denunciation of Saul in verse 22-23 with a prophetic poem the theme of which is the definition of obedience to God. In the Hebrew text, Samuel's rebuke of Saul is offered in poetic form (similar to other prophets; for example Is 66:2b-4; Hos 6:6; Amos 5:21-24etc.). These verses will be quoted in Hebrews 10:8-9.
Samuel is not condemning the ritual of sacrifice. His
point is that a sacrifice rightly offered is a demonstration of the
self-surrender of the offerer in giving a valuable gift to God which is not
just the animal but the life of the person that is offered in faith, trust and
Question: According to Samuel, what kind of sacrifice does God require? Also see passage attributed to David of Bethlehem and his understanding of a valid sacrifice that is pleasing to God in Psalm 51:16-17.
Answer: God requires a willing and obedience heart and humble loyalty as opposed to the emptiness of external ritual. Without the surrender of the individual, the cultic sacrifices and offerings become vain deeds of hypocrisy.
Question: Why does Samuel equate such empty acts
with rebellion, sorcery and idolatry? See Ex 22:19; Lev 20:6; Dt 13:13-19;
18:10-14; Mic 5:11/12-14/15.
Answer: They are all acts that aspire to something that is not of God. Scripture equates sins of rebellion and arrogance with divination and idolatry.
Without the genuine offering of a humble and contrite heart, sacrifices become meaningless and contrary to God's will: Sacrifice gives you no pleasure, burnt offering you do not desire. Sacrifice to God is a broken spirit, a broken, contrite heart you never scorn (Ps 51:16-17). To practice only the outward form of offering sacrifices without the inner surrender becomes an act of rebellion and presumption. Such an act involves a rejection of God's sovereignty over one's life and is equivalent to a pretense at righteousness that is equal to an act of apostasy.
Samuel delivers the message to Saul that God has rejected
him in verse 21.
Question: What is the difference between this rejection of Saul by Yahweh and the earlier rejection in 13:13-14?
Answer: The difference between this rejection and the earlier rejection is that the earlier rejection referred to Saul's dynasty (no sons would succeed him), but here it applies to Saul himself. God will withdraw His favor from Saul.
1 Samuel 15:24-31 ~ Saul begs Samuel to Pardon Him
24 Saul then said to Samuel, "I have sinned, having broken Yahweh's order and your instructions because I was afraid of the people and yielded to their demands [and obeyed their voice*]. 25 Now please forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I can worship Yahweh." 26 Samuel said to Saul, "I will not come back with you, since you have rejected Yahweh's word and Yahweh has rejected you as king of Israel." 27 As Samuel turned away to leave, Saul caught at the hem of his cloak and it tore, 28 and Samuel said to him, "Today Yahweh has torn the kingdom of Israel from you and given it to a neighbor of yours who is better than you. 29 The Glory of Israel, however, does not lie or go back on his word, not being human and liable to go back on his word." 30 "I have sinned," Saul said, "But please still show me respect in front of my people's elders and in front of Israel, and come back with me, so that I can worship Yahweh your God." 31 Samuel followed Saul back and Saul worshipped Yahweh. * = kol; IBHE, vol. II page 750.
In verse 24 Saul tires for a second time to offer an
excuse for his behavior by shifting the blame from himself to the people.
Question: What is Saul's admission of guilt in his excuse that is another use of the key Hebrew word kol and another example of his failure? What is required in a sincere admission of sin that leads to forgiveness that Saul lacks?
Answer: Saul admits that he listened to the people and "obeyed their voice" instead of the voice of God. Saul acknowledges his sin but without taking full responsibility and then asks for forgiveness. Therefore, it is not a valid act of contrition.
Question: But instead of being filled with fear
and sorrow for offending God what seems to be Saul's main concern?
Answer: Saul more is fearful of losing the people's respect if they see that Samuel no longer supports him.
Verses 25-28 are heart-breaking. In asking forgiveness, Saul hopes the judgment will be revoked. Saul does acknowledge his sin. However, that Saul still doesn't understand the full extent of his failure is obvious in his refusal to accept responsibility and accountability for the sin and in his request to Samuel not to disgrace him in front of the people by refusing to stand by him in the religious ceremony. In desperation, Saul reaches out to grab the hem of Samuel's cloak. His is probably grabbing hold of the tassels on the corners of Samuel's cloak (the tzit-tzit of the tallit). All men of the covenant were commanded to wear tassels on the four corners of their cloaks as a reminder of the sacred character of the community (Num 15:37-39; Dt 22:12).(4)
Question: When the piece of the cloak Saul grabbed
tore off, what symbolic interpretation did Samuel give to the torn cloth?
Answer: Samuel said it was symbolic of the kingdom being torn from Saul and given to another.(5)
Samuel tells Saul: "Today Yahweh has torn the kingdom of Israel from you and given it to a neighbor of yours who is better than you. This is the second allusion to David of Bethlehem (see 13:14). Bethlehem is located about ten miles south of Saul's hometown of Gibeah. Another comparison can be made between God's judgment in the sin of Adam and the sin of Saul. After Adam and Eve's sin of rebellion in eating from the forbidden tree, they were turned out of Eden and their access to the garden Sanctuary and intimate communion with God was forever blocked (Gen 3:23-24). As in the case of Adam, Saul's punishment is also severe. His sin of rebellion and rejection of the sovereignty of God over his life (15:23) has resulted in the loss of his kingdom and God's continuing presence; and there will be no going back (15:26).
1Samuel 15:29 ~ The
Glory of Israel, however, does not lie or go back on his word, not being human
and liable to go back on his word."
Referring to Yahweh by the title "the Glory of Israel," Samuel is reminding Saul that God keeps His promises and does not change his mind unlike human beings. Verse 29 is an allusion to Numbers 23:19a: God is no human being that he should lie, no child of Adam to change his mind. Samuel's point is that Saul will continue as king because God chose Saul as His anointed agent to rule Israel, but God will no longer guide him nor will his sons succeed him.
In verse 30 Saul does not shift the blame to others, but he still accompanies his confession with a personal request to prevent his public humiliation. Samuel compassionately relents and accompanies Saul to the altar, but this does not mean that Saul is forgiven because confession must be sincere and must be accompanied by a demonstration of repentance.
Saul and the people he is responsible for leading have
failed to implement herem in the holy war against the Amalekites, even
though their motive may not have been to deprive Yahweh of sacrifice but, as
Saul argues, to offer God the best of the animals in a religious ceremony.
Saul argues that he has tried to act in good faith, and it is in this that his
Question: What is the root of Saul's sin in this action and in the earlier clash with Samuel resulting in Saul's rejection in 13:8-14? What commandment has he broken? See Dt 6:5 and 11:13-16a.
Answer: His sin consists in choosing his individual way of honoring God with a view to his own popularity with the people. He sought to compromise between Yahweh who had chosen him and commanded him to perform a mission in a certain way and his desire to please the people who have acknowledged him as their king. He has not fulfilled the commandment in declaring his allegiance to Yahweh alone.
Question: What is the root cause of the failure of
Saul's relationship with Yahweh in his unwillingness to give Yahweh his full
allegiance? How does Saul refer to God in 15:15, 21 and 30? And also see what
God requires in 13:14.
Answer: Saul has failed in acknowledging Yahweh as his God; instead he refers to Yahweh as Samuel's God three times, stressing the emotional and spiritual distance between Saul and God. Saul does not have "a heart" for Yahweh.
Unfortunately this is also the failure of the Israelites as a people. Saul always refers to God as "your God" when speaking to Samuel, but in 12:19 the people also ask Samuel to pray to Yahweh "your God" and not "our God."
Question: If God is all powerful and all knowing,
why did He choose Saul to be king in the first place, knowing that Saul would
fail? See Jam 1:12-15; 1 Cor 10:6-13; 1 Tim 2:4 and 2 Pt 3:9.
Answer: The destiny God has planned for all mankind is to live with Him in eternity. Unfortunately like Saul, not all men and woman accept His gift of salvation and through their own free will choices they fall prey to sin which separates them from God. When they cannot acknowledge their sins and sincerely repent their transgressions, they shut themselves off from God's mercy. God knew Saul's potential for greatness, but Saul was not willing to fulfill that destiny.
The story of Saul is a cautionary tale for all of us. His destiny was greatness. He was to establish the kingly dynasty from which the Messiah would eventually come to redeem all mankind and to establish His eternal kingdom. Saul forfeited that destiny through his lack of trust and faith in God and his determination to use his own understanding instead of living as Samuel warned him and the Israelites: to fear offending God, to serve God faithfully and to be obedient to God's commands (1 Sam 12:14).
1 Samuel 15:32-35 ~The Death of King Agag and the
Departure of Samuel
32 Samuel then said, "Bring me Agag king of the Amalekites!" Agag came towards him unsteadily saying, "Truly death is bitter!" 33 Samuel said: "As your sword has left women childless, so will your mother be left childless among women!" Samuel then butchered Agag before Yahweh at Gilgal. 34 Samuel left to Ramah, and Saul went up home to Gibeah of Saul. 35 Samuel did not see Saul again till his dying day. Samuel indeed mourned over Saul, but Yahweh regretting have made Saul king of Israel.
Saul has spared the life of Agag, king of the Amalekites, and therefore Samuel will carry out his just execution.(6) Agag, who thought he had been spared, now realizes that he is about to die and says: "Truly death is bitter!" Samuel's words to King Agag in verse 33 recall the abomination of the Amalekite practice of cutting the babies out of the bodies of their pregnant mothers. It is for this and other sins against humanity that God condemned the Amalekites to herem. Samuel justifies Agag's punishment in verse 33 by stressing its correspondence with his sins. Agag's execution should have been carried out on the battle field (1 Sam 13:3). It is an uncomfortable truth that those who are merciful to the cruel (like Saul sparing Agag) often end up being cruel to the merciful. In Saul's case this maxim will come true in 1 Samuel 22.
1 Samuel 15:35 ~ Samuel
left to Ramah, and Saul went up home to Gibeah of Saul. Samuel did not see
Saul again till his dying day.
Verse 35 seems to suggest that Samuel died without seeing Saul again. However, that interpretation conflicts with another passage. Perhaps the interpretation of this verse should read that Samuel did to go to see Saul again; meaning that Samuel no longer sought out Saul to counsel Saul as his spiritual advisor. Saul will go to see Samuel one last time at Ramah in 1 Samuel 19:24.
The word used in verse 34: Samuel did not see Saul again till [until] his dying day is in Hebrew the word ad and in the Greek translation the word heos. These words are not used in the same way we use the word "until" in English. They are used to mean an event did not occur up to a certain point and also continued beyond that point.(7)
Saul returned to his home city of Gibeah. That Yahweh "regretted having made Saul king of Israel" in verse 35b does not mean God made a mistake in selecting Saul but as in 15:11 it is an expression of sorrow that Saul was unwilling to fulfill the destiny God planned for him. Every human being is created to fulfill a destiny of eternal glory, but God has given man the free-will to either accept or reject that destiny. It is God's plan for all to come to salvation, as St. Paul wrote to Timothy: ... [God] he wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth (2 Tim 2:4); and as St. Peter wrote to the universal Church: ... but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. Just as God expressed sorrow over Saul's failure, so too does He sorrow over every human who rejects Christ's give of eternal life.
King Saul of Israel is a tragic figure in Biblical history. He seemed to have every advantage for success. He was tall, handsome, and from a good family (1 Sam 9:1). His father was a mighty warrior from the tribe of Benjamin who loved his son (1 Sam 9:1; 10:2). Saul married a woman named Ahinoam, the daughter of Ahjimaaz (1 Sam 14:50) who bore him healthy children (1 Sam 14:49; 1 Chr 8:33; 9:39). Everything seemed to be in his favor, and at first his character showed that he was humble and self-effacing, qualities of which God approves, but he also lacked self-confidence.
It was not a problem for a divinely chosen agent of God to lack confidence so long as the person had faith and trust in God and was obedient to His commands. This, however, was Saul's failure. He wanted to do what was right, but in a crisis of decision he was incapable of trusting God by meekly placing himself in the hands of the divine King. The tension between wanting to do what is right, his lack of confidence, and his inability to trust Yahweh as his God and not just Samuel's God (14:30) contribute to his undoing. In the end it is, however, Saul's lack of trust in God demonstrated by placing his will over God's commands that led God to reject Saul. The loss of God's favor resulted in a tortured man who slowly declined into depression and mental illness.
Questions for reflection or group discussion:
The act of offering a sacrifice without the inner surrender of the offerer
was condemned by God through His prophet Samuel (1 Sam 14:22-23; also see Ps 51:16-17; Amos 5:21-25; Hos 6:6).
Question: What obligation is placed on you and other Christians in the liturgy of worship and in participating in the Sacraments? Do you recite the Penitential Rite of the Mass without feeling or meaning, having neglected to kneel before the Lord prior to the start of the Mass to confess your sins committed during the past week and therefore failing to prepare yourself as a holy sacrifice to be offered to the Lord God (Rom 12:1). Or do you blindly and unfeelingly walk forward to receive Christ in the Eucharist without contemplating the significance of the miracle that is taking place? Do you confess your sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and expect forgiveness without feeling genuine remorse for having offended God like Saul? St. Paul taught in Romans 10:4: Christ is the end of the Law for the justification of everyone who has faith. In that passage, St. Paul is making the point that yielding to the sovereignty of God only through the outward form of ritual and rigid obedience to the Law is not enough; it is faith in Jesus Christ that is required for justification (being made righteous/just in the sight of God). He also wrote in Romans 12:1: I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. When you receive Christ in the Eucharist, what are you offering God in return? Also see what St. Paul wrote on receiving the sacrifice of the Eucharist in 1 Corinthians 11:26-32. What warning does he give?
Question: One aspect of Saul's failure was in choosing his own ideas about right worship. In doing so, he was not obedient to Yahweh; he was defining his own idea of God and redefining what God wanted from him. Jesus established the New Covenant in His blood on the altar of the Cross and established New Covenant worship on the night of the Last Supper in the Eucharist. He also gave the responsibility of teaching right worship to His Church under the leadership of the Twelve Apostles and their successors. How have many professing Christians gone the way of Saul in redefining right worship and the obligation of obedience and faith God wants from New Covenant believers?
1. Archaeologists believed they discovered Saul's fortress at Gibeah. The structure they discovered was only a modest c. 170 feet by 115 feet. Unfortunately, shortly after its discovery and before an extensive excavation would be launched, the archaeologists were removed from the site by King Hussein of Jordan who built a palace on the same site in the 1960s. The Israelis recovered the site of ancient Gibeah in the 1967 War, but all archaeological evidence of Saul's fortress had been completely destroyed by the Jordanians.
2. Some scholars suggest "Havilah" is a scribal error and the place-name should be Hachilah, an unidentified hill in southern Judah in the wilderness of Ziph not far from Hebron (see 1 Sam 23:19; 26:1-3).
3. The Kenites are listed among the pre-Israelite inhabitants of Canaan (Gen 15:19) and their name is believed to be derived from the Hebrew word for "smith" or "one who worked in metal." It is a theory that is not proven but supported by the fact that the Kenites lived in northern Sinai, a region of copper mining and smelting in ancient times (Num 24:17-22). A section of the Negeb was known as "the Negeb of the Kenites (1 Sam 27:10).
4. This command is still obeyed by Orthodox Jews and is seen in the fringes on the corners of the modern Jewish prayer shawl.
5. For a similar interpretation see 1 Sam 24:5 and 1 Kng 11:30-31.
6. King Agag has a connection to the Book of Esther's villain Haman. Haman is called "the Agagite," suggesting he was a descendant of King Agag of the Amalekites (Est 3:1, 10; 8:3, 5; 9:25). Haman's arch enemy, whose death he plots, is Esther's cousin Mordechai, a member of the tribe of Benjamin and a descendant of a man named Kish (Est 2:5). Saul was also a Benjaminite whose father was named Kish (1 Sam 9:1). While these are two different men named "Kish" in the ancestral line of both Mordechai and Saul, it is likely the "Kish" from the tribe of Benjamin from whom Mordechai was descended was of the same Benjaminite clan as Saul and his father and therefore there was a close kinship connection. If Haman believed that Mordechai had a family connection to the Israelite king who put Haman's ancestor King Agag to death and destroyed his kingdom, the reason Haman bore such hatred for Mordechai in particular and the Jews of Persia in general may have been based on revenge.
7. It is the same Greek word used in Matthew 1:25 referring to Joseph and Mary of Nazareth: He had no relations with her until [heos] she bore a son, and he named him Jesus. The verse is to be understood that Joseph had no physical relations with the Virgin Mary before the birth of Jesus and this condition continued after Jesus was born. This has been a teaching in the Church for two thousand years and was not challenged until the Protestant Reformation. Also see the use of heos in the Greek translation of the Old Testament passages in Dt 29:3/4; 1 Sam 15:34; 2 Sam 16:23; and in the New Testament in Jn 9:8; 1 Cor 11:26 and 1 Tim 4:13. See the document "Did Jesus have Brothers and Sisters"
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2014 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
Catechism references for 1 Samuel Chapters 14-15:
Confession: CCC 1455-58; perfect and imperfect (CCC 1492)
Obtaining reconciliation (CCC 1493)
Necessity of confessing sins (CCC 1448)
Contrition (CCC 1451-54)
Obtaining forgiveness (CCC 1434, 1437, 1452)
Prayers of intercession (CCC 2634-36, 2647)