Jonathan and Saul – 1 Samuel 14–15

Read the Passage: 1 Samuel 14-15

Jonathan’s Valor (14:1–52)

Despite the fact that God had declared an eventual end to his monarchy, Saul remained king. Yet, as was alluded to in 1 Sam. 13:3, not all was lost, for Saul’s son Jonathan was a man of faith and valor. As he had done earlier, so 1 Sam. 14:1–23 reports that Jonathan again attacked a Philistine garrison and won a second victory, this one at Michmash. As with Jonathan’s previous victory, this one sparked conflict between Israel and the Philistines. This narrative, which shows that Saul’s downfall was not the result of his family, is ironic, for the Lord’s pronouncement of His rejection of Saul at 1 Sam. 13:13–14 included the fact Saul’s reign would not be passed down to his very capable son. Our sin never affects just ourselves (cf. Exod. 20:5–6). Despite God’s rejection of Saul, the Lord was still pleased to facilitate a great victory for His people through Jonathan’s obedience.

As the battle took place, 1 Sam. 14:24 reports, “And the men of Israel were distressed that day, for Saul had placed the people under oath, saying, ‘Cursed is the man who eats any food until evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies’.” 1 Sam. 14:27 then notes that Jonathan, apparently unaware of his Father’s rash oath, ate some honey. Further, it is recorded that the famished army sinned by eating rare meat from the spoils of war. When God later would not answer Saul’s prayer on account of his sin, there was an investigation and ultimately a supernatural identification of Jonathan as having transgressed the king’s oath. This led Saul to sin further in declaring his intent to kill his own son (cf. 1 Sam. 14:44). Yet, the people resisted the idea (cf. 1 Sam. 14:45), perhaps being aware—as was Jonathan (cf. 1 Sam. 14:29–30)—that Saul’s oath itself was immoral, self-serving, and prideful.

Saul’s Sin (15:1–9)

1 Sam. 15:1–35 records one of the last major events in the monarchy of Saul before the transition to David began. In 1 Sam. 15:1–3 Saul was commanded to go to war against the Amalekites in retribution for their persecution of the Jews when they entered the Promised Land. Very explicitly Samuel commanded Saul, “Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” (1 Sam. 15:3). While the death of all of the Canaanites may seem to be overly harsh, the rationale God gives earlier in Scripture is that the Canaanites were to be put to death so that Israel would not be led into sin (cf. Exod. 34:10–16; Deut. 20:16–18). Note, as well, from a divine perspective, no Canaanite got less than they deserved. Indeed, God was long-suffering in regard to their sin (cf. Gen. 15:16). Further, the Promised Land is a picture of the new heavens and earth in which there will be no one who does not worship God.

God’s Rejection (15:10–35)

Despite God’s clear direction to Saul regarding the death of the Amalekites, Saul “spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good” (1 Sam. 15:9). When confronted by Samuel regarding his disobedience, note Saul’s reaction. First, Saul claimed that he had been obedient to God’s command (cf. 1 Sam. 15:13). Second, when his disobedience was evident, Saul attempted to justify himself as he claimed that the people had sinned, not himself (cf. 1 Sam. 15:15). Third, Saul claimed that the reason for his and the people’s disobedience was so that they could offer sacrifices to the Lord (cf. 1 Sam. 15:15, 21). In response, Samuel pointed out that Saul had acted out of pride and selfishness, not obedience (cf. 1 Sam. 15:17–19, 22–23). Only when his sin was unavoidably exposed did Saul offer an insincere confession and ask for forgiveness.

Earlier, at 1 Sam. 13:14, Saul had been told, “Your kingdom shall not continue.” In light of Saul’s disobedience in regard to the killing of the Amalekites, however, at 1 Sam. 15:26 Samuel proclaimed, “The Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” When Samuel refused to accompany Saul, Saul grabbed and tore the prophet’s robe. Then, somewhat incredibly, Saul begged, “Honor me now, please, before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me” (1 Sam. 15:30). Despite twice admitting his sin and externally repenting, this proclamation demonstrates the shallowness of Saul’s confession. Saul was still clearly thinking only of himself and trying to salvage the situation for his own benefit. Surprisingly, Samuel agreed to accompany Saul; yet, this seems to have been in order to mete out the capital punishment upon King Agag.

Application Questions:

  1. Since God had announced his rejection of Saul at 1 Sam. 13:13–14, why did God allow Saul to continue to serve as king?
  2. Why does God allow the innocent to be affected by the sins of the guilty? Have you ever been impacted by the sins of another (cf. Deut. 24:16; Ezek. 18:20)?
  3. Is it moral for Christians to take oaths (cf. Matt. 5:33–37; James 5:12)? Are believers bound to keep all oaths that they take?
  4. What does the text mean when it says that God regretted making Saul king (cf. 1 Sam. 15:11)? If God is omniscient, how can He regret anything?
  5. Do you think Saul’s admission of his own sin and request for forgiveness was genuine (cf. 1 Sam. 15:24–25, 30)? How can we evaluate repentance?