Containing The Interval Of Thirty Two Years.
From The Death Of Eli To The Death Of Saul.
How The Philistines Made Another Expedition Against
The Hebrews And Were Beaten.
1. NOW Saul chose out of the multitude about three thousand men, and he took two thousand of them to be the guards of his own body, and abode in the city Bethel, but he gave the rest of them to Jonathan his son, to be the guards of his body; and sent him to Gibeah, where he besieged and took a certain garrison of the Philistines, not far from Gilgal; for the Philistines of Gibeah had beaten the Jews, and taken their weapons away, and had put garrisons into the strongest places of the country, and had forbidden them to carry any instrument of iron, or at all to make use of any iron in any case whatsoever. And on account of this prohibition it was that the husbandmen, if they had occasion to sharpen any of their tools, whether it were the coulter or the spade, or any instrument of husbandry, they came to the Philistines to do it.
Now as soon as the Philistines heard of this slaughter of their garrison, they were in a rage about it, and, looking on this contempt as a terrible affront offered them, they made war against the Jews, with three hundred thousand footmen, and thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horses; and they pitched their camp at the city Michmash. When Saul, the king of the Hebrews, was informed of this, he went down to the city Gilgal, and made proclamation over all the country, that they should try to regain their liberty; and called them to the war against the Philistines, diminishing their forces, and despising them as not very considerable, and as not so great but they might hazard a battle with them. But when the people about Saul observed how numerous the Philistines were, they were under a great consternation; and some of them hid themselves in caves and in dens under ground, but the greater part fled into the land beyond Jordan, which belonged to Gad and Reuben.
2. But Saul sent to the prophet, and called him to consult with him about the war and the public affairs; so he commanded him to stay there for him, and to prepare sacrifices, for he would come to him within seven days, that they might offer sacrifices on the seventh day, and might then join battle with their enemies. So he waited (11) as the prophet sent to him to do; yet did not he, however, observe the command that was given him, but when he saw that the prophet tarried longer than he expected, and that he was deserted by the soldiers, he took the sacrifices and offered them; and when he heard that Samuel was come, he went out to meet him.
But the prophet said he had not done well in disobeying the injunctions he had sent to him, and had not staid till his coming, which being appointed according to the will of God, he had prevented him in offering up those prayers and those sacrifices that he should have made for the multitude, and that he therefore had performed Divine offices in an ill manner, and had been rash in performing them. Hereupon Saul made an apology for himself, and said that he had waited as many days as Samuel had appointed him; that he had been so quick in offering his sacrifices, upon account of the necessity he was in, and because his soldiers were departing from him, out of their fear of the enemy's camp at Michmash, the report being gone abroad that they were coming down upon him of Gilgal. To which Samuel replied,
"Nay, certainly, if thou hadst been a righteous man, (12) and hadst not disobeyed me, nor slighted the commands which God suggested to me concerning the present state of affairs, and hadst not acted more hastily than the present circumstances required, thou wouldst have been permitted to reign a long time, and thy posterity after thee."
So Samuel, being grieved at what happened, returned home; but Saul came to the city Gibeah, with his son Jonathan, having only six hundred men with him; and of these the greater part had no weapons, because of the scarcity of iron in that country, as well as of those that could make such weapons; for, as we showed a little before, the Philistines had not suffered them to have such iron or such workmen. Now the Philistines divided their army into three companies, and took as many roads, and laid waste the country of the Hebrews, while king Saul and his son Jonathan saw what was done, but were not able to defend the land, having no more than six hundred men with them. But as he, and his son, and Abiah the high priest, who was of the posterity of Eli the high priest, were sitting upon a pretty high hill, and seeing the land laid waste, they were mightily disturbed at it.
Now Saul's son agreed with his armor-bearer, that they would go privately to the enemy's camp, and make a tumult and a disturbance among them. And when the armor-bearer had readily promised to follow him whithersoever he should lead him, though he should be obliged to die in the attempt, Jonathan made use of the young man's assistance, and descended from the hill, and went to their enemies. Now the enemy's camp was upon a precipice which had three tops, that ended in a small but sharp and long extremity, while there was a rock that surrounded them, like lines made to prevent the attacks of an enemy. There it so happened, that the out-guards of the camp were neglected, because of the security that here arose from the situation of the place, and because they thought it altogether impossible, not only to ascend up to the camp on that quarter, but so much as to come near it. As soon, therefore, as they came to the camp, Jonathan encouraged his armor-bearer, and said to him,
"Let us attack our enemies; and if, when they see us, they bid us come up to them, take that for a signal of victory; but if they say nothing, as not intending to invite us to come up, let us return back again."
So when they were approaching to the enemy's camp, just after break of day, and the Philistines saw them, they said one to another,
"The Hebrews come out of their dens and caves:"
and they said to Jonathan and to his armor-bearer,
"Come on, ascend up to us, that we may inflict a just punishment upon you, for your rash attempt upon us."
So Saul's son accepted of that invitation, as what signified to him victory, and he immediately came out of the place whence they were seen by their enemies: so he changed his place, and came to the rock, which had none to guard it, because of its own strength; from thence they crept up with great labor and difficulty, and so far overcame by force the nature of the place, till they were able to fight with their enemies. So they fell upon them as they were asleep, and slew about twenty of them, and thereby filled them with disorder and surprise, insomuch that some of them threw away their entire armor and fled; but the greatest part, not knowing one another, because they were of different nations, suspected one another to be enemies, (for they did not imagine there were only two of the Hebrews that came up,) and so they fought one against another; and some of them died in the battle, and some, as they were flying away, were thrown down from the rock headlong.
3. Now Saul's watchmen told the king that the camp of the Philistines was in confusion; then he inquired whether any body was gone away from the army; and when he heard that his son, and with him his armor-bearer, were absent, he bade the high priest take the garments of his high priesthood, and prophesy to him what success they should have; who said that they should get the victory, and prevail against their enemies. So he went out after the Philistines, and set upon them as they were slaying one another. Those also who had fled to dens and caves, upon hearing that Saul was gaining a victory, came running to him.
When, therefore, the number of the Hebrews that came to Saul amounted to about ten thousand, he pursued the enemy, who were scattered all over the country; but then he fell into an action, which was a very unhappy one, and liable to be very much blamed; for, whether out of ignorance or whether out of joy for a victory gained so strangely, (for it frequently happens that persons so fortunate are not then able to use their reason consistently,) as he was desirous to avenge himself, and to exact a due punishment of the Philistines, he denounced a curse (13) upon the Hebrews: That if any one put a stop to his slaughter of the enemy, and fell on eating, and left off the slaughter or the pursuit before the night came on, and obliged them so to do, he should be accursed.
Now after Saul had denounced this curse, since they were now in a wood belonging to the tribe of Ephraim, which was thick and full of bees, Saul's son, who did not hear his father denounce that curse, nor hear of the approbation the multitude gave to it, broke off a piece of a honey-comb, and ate part of it. But, in the mean time, he was informed with what a curse his father had forbidden them to taste any thing before sun-setting: so he left off eating, and said his father had not done well in this prohibition, because, had they taken some food, they had pursued the enemy with greater rigor and alacrity, and had both taken and slain many more of their enemies.
4. When, therefore, they had slain many ten thousands of the Philistines, they fell upon spoiling the camp of the Philistines, but not till late in the evening. They also took a great deal of prey and cattle, and killed them, and ate them with their blood. This was told to the king by the scribes, that the multitude were sinning against God as they sacrificed, and were eating before the blood was well washed away, and the flesh was made clean. Then did Saul give order that a great stone should be rolled into the midst of them, and he made proclamation that they should kill their sacrifices upon it, and not feed upon the flesh with the blood, for that was not acceptable to God. And when all the people did as the king commanded them, Saul erected an altar there, and offered burnt-offerings upon it to God (14) This was the first altar that Saul built.
5. So when Saul was desirous of leading his men to the enemy's camp before it was day, in order to plunder it, and when the soldiers were not unwilling to follow him, but indeed showed great readiness to do as he commanded them, the king called Ahitub the high priest, and enjoined him to know of God whether he would grant them the favor and permission to go against the enemy's camp, in order to destroy those that were in it. And when the priest said that God did not give any answer, Saul replied,
"And not without some cause does God refuse to answer what we inquire of him, while yet a little while ago he declared to us all that we desired beforehand, and even prevented us in his answer. To be sure there is some sin against him that is concealed from us, which is the occasion of his silence. Now I swear by him himself, that though he that hath committed this sin should prove to be my own son Jonathan, I will slay him, and by that means will appease the anger of God against us, and that in the very same manner as if I were to punish a stranger, and one not at all related to me, for the same offense."
So when the multitude cried out to him so to do, he presently set all the rest on one side, and he and his son stood on the other side, and he sought to discover the offender by lot. Now the lot appeared to fall upon Jonathan himself. So when he was asked by his father what sin he had been guilty of, and what he was conscious of in the course of his life that might be esteemed instances of guilt or profaneness, his answer was this,
"O father, I have done nothing more than that yesterday, without knowing of the curse and oath thou hadst denounced, while I was in pursuit of the enemy, I tasted of a honey-comb."
But Saul sware that he would slay him, and prefer the observation of his oath before all the ties of birth and of nature. And Jonathan was not dismayed at this threatening of death, but, offering himself to it generously and undauntedly, he said,
"Nor do I desire you, father, to spare me: death will be to me very acceptable, when it proceeds from thy piety, and after a glorious victory; for it is the greatest consolation to me that I leave the Hebrews victorious over the Philistines."
Hereupon all the people were very sorry, and greatly afflicted for Jonathan; and they sware that they would not overlook Jonathan, and see him die, who was the author of their victory. By which means they snatched him out of the danger he was in from his father's curse, while they made their prayers to God also for the young man, that he would remit his sin.
6. So Saul, having slain about sixty thousand of the enemy, returned home to his own city, and reigned happily: and he also fought against the neighboring nations, and subdued the Ammonites, and Moabites, and Philistines, and Edomites, and Amalekites, as also the king of Zobah. He had three male children, Jonathan, and Isui, and Melchishua; with Merab and Michal his daughters. He had also Abner, his uncle's son, for the captain of his host: that uncle's name was Ner. Now Ner, and Kish the father of Saul, were brothers. Saul had also a great many chariots and horsemen, and against whomsoever he made war he returned conqueror, and advanced the affairs of the Hebrews to a great degree of success and prosperity, and made them superior to other nations; and he made such of the young men as were remarkable for tallness and comeliness the guards of his body.
(11) Saul seems to have staid till near the time of the evening sacrifice, on the seventh day, which Samuel the prophet of God had appointed him, but not till the end of that day, as he ought to have done; and Samuel appears, by delaying to come to the full time of the evening sacrifice on that seventh day, to have tried him (who seems to have been already for some time declining from his strict and bounden subordination to God and his prophet; to have taken life-guards for himself and his son, which was entirely a new thing in Israel, and savored of a distrust of God's providence; and to have affected more than he ought that independent authority which the pagan kings took to themselves); Samuel, I say, seems to have here tried Saul whether he would stay till the priest came, who alone could lawfully offer the sacrifices, nor would boldly and profanely usurp the priest's office, which he venturing upon, was justly rejected for his profaneness.
See Apost. Constit. B. II. Ch. 27. And, indeed, since Saul had accepted kingly power, which naturally becomes ungovernable and tyrannical, as God foretold, and the experience of all ages has shown, the Divine settlement by Moses had soon been laid aside under the kings, had not God, by keeping strictly to his laws, and severely executing the threatenings therein contained, restrained Saul and other kings in some degree of obedience to himself; nor was even this severity sufficient to restrain most of the future kings of Israel and Judah from the grossest idolatry and impiety. Of the advantage of which strictness, in the observing Divine laws, and inflicting their threatened penalties, see Antiq. B. VI. Ch. 12. Sect. 7; and Against Apion, B. II. Sect. 30, where Josephus speaks of that matter; though it must be noted that it seems, at least in three instances, that good men did not always immediately approve of such Divine severity. There seems to be one instance, 1 Samuel 6:19, 20; another, 1 Samuel 15:11; and a third, 2 Samuel 6:8, 9; Antiq. B. VI. Ch. 7. Sect. 2; though they all at last acquiesced in the Divine conduct, as knowing that God is wiser than men.
(12) By this answer of Samuel, and that from a Divine commission, which is fuller in l Samuel 13:14, and by that parallel note in the Apostolical Constitutions just now quoted, concerning the great wickedness of Saul in venturing, even under a seeming necessity of affairs, to usurp the priest's office, and offer sacrifice without the priest, we are in some degree able to answer that question, which I have ever thought a very hard one, viz. Whether, if there were a city or country of lay Christians without any clergymen, it were lawful for the laity alone to baptize, or celebrate the eucharist, etc., or indeed whether they alone could ordain themselves either bishops, priests, or deacons, for the due performance of such sacerdotal ministrations; or whether they ought not rather, till they procure clergymen to come among them, to confine themselves within those bounds of piety and Christianity which belong alone to the laity; such particularly as are recommended in the first book of the Apostolical Constitutions, which peculiarly concern the laity, and are intimated in Clement's undoubted epistle, Sect. 40. To which latter opinion I incline.
(13) This rash vow or curse of Saul, which Josephus says was confirmed by the people, and yet not executed, I suppose principally because Jonathan did not know of it, is very remarkable; it being of the essence of the obligation of all laws, that they be sufficiently known and promulgated, otherwise the conduct of Providence, as to the sacredness of solemn oaths and vows, in God's refusing to answer by Urim till this breach of Saul's vow or curse was understood and set right, and God propitiated by public prayer, is here very remarkable, as indeed it is every where else in the Old Testament.
(14) Here we have still more indications of Saul's affectation of despotic power, and of his entrenching upon the priesthood, and making and endeavoring to execute a rash vow or curse, without consulting Samuel or the sanhedrim. In this view it is also that I look upon this erection of a new altar by Saul, and his offering of burnt-offerings himself upon it, and not as any proper instance of devotion or religion, with other commentators.