March 30 Reading: I Samuel 13-14 Commentary

Below is our I Samuel 13-14 commentary from our Beginning to End Bible reading program. You can find an email link at the end of this page to share your thoughts or comments with us.

Key Verse(s):

“You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” (I Sam. 13:13-14)

I Samuel 13 – Saul Makes a Sacrifice

commentaryThe good times for King Saul do not last long. In the second year of his reign, he faces a military encounter with a nation known as the Philistines (v. 1-2). After an initial skirmish where his son Jonathan attacked a Philistine garrison in Geba (v. 3), the Philistines gather a massive army (v. 5) and march on Israel. 

After his anointing (see I Sam. 10:8), Samuel had given Saul instructions go to Gilgal and wait seven days in their encampment so that Samuel could come and offer sacrifices to the Lord before the battle. That is where Saul finds himself as the Philistines march on his position. The problem is that Samuel had not shown up yet to entreat the Lord’s blessing on the coming battle. 

When Samuel didn’t show up according to the specified time, Saul got anxious. He called for some animals to be brought and he offered the burnt offering himself (v. 9). That was a big mistake.

Saul was not a priest authorized to do this. Additionally, he clearly disobeyed the word of the Lord given through Samuel to wait seven days.

Samuel Arrives

Just as Saul finished conducting the burnt offering, Samuel arrived (v. 10). Needless to say, Samuel is upset and wants to know what happened.

Saul is full of excuses. He states four reasons why he chose to offer the sacrifice:

1. The soldiers were scattered from him (v. 11).

2. Samuel delayed in coming (v. 11).

3. The Philistine army had arrived at Micmash (v. 12).

4. There was immediate danger of Philistine attack (v. 12).

Regardless of his reasoning, Samuel said that Saul has acted foolishly (v. 13). As a result, Samuel told Saul that the Lord would not establish his kingdom forever because of his disobedience. He said to Saul:

“You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” (I Sam. 13:13-14)

The passing of the kingdom to someone new would not be an immediate action. Saul would go on to rule Israel for 40 years in total. But, according to the word of Samuel, the kingdom would not pass to his son and continue in his family line. 

I Samuel 14 – Jonathan’s Victory

Saul’s son Jonathan wanted to engage the Philistines. One day, without telling his father, he and his armor bearer left the army in an attempt to go up against the Philistine garrison at Michmash (vv. 1-5). He demonstrated a lot of faith telling his armor bearer:

“Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the Lord will work for us. For nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few.” (v. 6)

Jonathan had a plan to figure out if the Lord is honoring their courage. He says to his armor bearer,

“…let us cross over to these men, and we will show ourselves to them. If they say thus to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place and not go up to them. But if they say thus, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up. For the Lord has delivered them into our hand, and this will be a sign to us.” (vv. 8-10)

That is exactly what happened. When the soldiers at the garrison saw Jonathan, they told him to come on up so that they could show him something (v. 12). Jonathan and his armor bearer went up to the garrison and killed 20 men within an area of about half an acre (v. 13-14).

Jonathan’s attack caused great fear to break out among the Philistines (v. 15). When Saul’s men heard, they gathered their forces and went to battle (vv. 17-20). What they found upon arrival was great confusion in the Philistine camp (v. 20). It seems as though God caused the Philistines to turn on one another.

So through Jonathan’s act of faith (v. 12), the Lord saved Israel that day (v. 23).

Saul’s Oath

Verses 24-46 provide an inside story about what happened on the day of battle previously discussed in the chapter. Evidently, before leaving for battle, Saul had placed all the soldiers under an oath saying, “Cursed is the man who eats any food until evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies” (v. 24). So none of the people ate food.

However, Jonathan and his armor bearer had not been present when Saul made his oath (v. 27). At that point, they had been attacking the Philistine garrison. So when the army (which Jonathan has now rejoined) passed through a wooded area where bees had produced so much honey it was dripping on the ground, Jonathan took some and ate (vv. 25-27).

The people warned Jonathan about his father’s oath (v. 28). But Jonathan saw things differently. He thought the victory could have been greater if his father hadn’t acted foolishly:

“My father has troubled the land. Look now, how my countenance has brightened because I tasted a little of this honey. How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found! For now would there not have been a much greater slaughter among the Philistines?” (v. 29-30)

It appears Jonathan acted reasonably. At one point, the other soldiers were so faint from hunger, they took some of the spoils of battle (cattle, sheep, oxen), slaughtered them, and ate the meat with the blood still in it (vv 31-32). This was a violation of Mosaic Law (see Lev. 17:10-14).

To his credit, Saul stopped this from happening when he finds out and makes arrangements to drain the blood properly before they ate any more (vv. 33-34).

Sin in the Camp?

Before pursuing the Philistines further, Saul built an altar to the Lord. The priests who were with him encouraged Saul to “draw near to God here” (v. 36). So Saul asked them to inquire of the Lord about the upcoming battle (v. 37).

But an interesting thing happened. God did not answer the priests (v. 37). So Saul took this as an indication that there was sin in the camp. Why else would God not answer?

Unfortunately for his own good, Saul can’t keep his mouth shut. He makes another foolish oath saying, Come over here, all you chiefs of the people, and know and see what this sin was today. For as the Lord lives, who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die” (vv. 38-39). The people agreed to figure this out, to see whether it is them or Saul and Jonathan who had committed the sin (v. 40). 

When the lots were cast, it first fell to Saul and Jonathan instead of the people (v. 41). When cast again, it fell on Jonathan (v. 42). When confronted, Jonathan revealed the whole honey incident in the forest (v. 43). He can’t believe his father would kill him over such a small issue.

Saul is furious and believes he can’t go back on his oath. He ordered Jonathan be put to death (v. 44). But the men stood up for Jonathan because it was through his courage that the battle had been won. So they would not allow Saul to harm his son (v. 45).

Saul’s Continued Battles

Saul’s reign over Israel solidified with continued military victories. He fought “against all his enemies on every side”, doing battle with the people of Moab, Ammon, Edom, the kings of Zobah, the Philistines and the Amalekites (vv. 47-48).

In his family life, in addition to Jonathan, Saul had two other sons mentioned here: Jishui and Malchishua, along with two daughters, Merab and Michal. His wife’s name was Ahinoam (v. 49).

In leadership, he appointed a man named Abner, son of Ner as the commander of his army (v. 50).

And he took “any strong man or valiant man…for himself” to be in his army (v. 52). This is exactly what the prophet Samuel said would happen when Israel asked to have a king for themselves (I Sam. 8:10-18)

Questions to Consider:

When we face uncertainty, fear, anxiety or pressure, our tendency is to take matters into our own hands. That’s the wrong play. In those moments, we should lean into God and trust in Him more than ever.

Making decisions under pressure is hard. Saul faced one in I Samuel 13 and utterly failed. He gave into his fears and stepped out of his role as king to offer an unauthorized sacrifice. How has it worked out for you when you tried to make matters into your own hands instead of relying on God when things weren’t going according to plan?

Jonathan almost lost his life because of his father’s rash oath. It shows that we should always think before we speak. When emotional, it’s too easy to say things we don’t mean or might regret later. How have foolishly spoken words impacted your life? 

What other points would you want to know about in our I Samuel 13-14 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.