1 Samuel 13-14: Saul’s Army

Original Publication Date
December 3, 2016
Feb 18, 2023 3:18 PM
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1 Samuel 13-14
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This page was originally posted on my Blogger version of the blog on December 3, 2016 The content below has a few minor tweaks for clarity, and additional references, and some updated information.


In our world, no kingdom can survive without an impressive army. After reigning for 2 years, Saul chooses 300,000 men to serve as Israel's army. This figure helps to put the wars fought in the Bible in perspective to the wars fought today. For comparison, in the Revolutionary War, America boasted an army of only 217,000 men. Over 3 million fought in the civil war (roughly 2 million from the Union and 1 million from the Confederacy). 4 million fought in WWI, and 16 million fought in WWII.[1] Clearly, our world has placed a greater emphasis on violence and armies over time (note that the wars since WWII have had significantly fewer combatants, but still remain well over the 300,000 mark). As we can see from our own statistics in the Revolutionary War, an army of 300,000 was a decent sized army.

The Philistines, Again

Once again, the Israelites become embattled in a conflict with the Philistines, this time at Michmash. Jonathan, Saul's son, leads the army to defeat the Philistines. Michmash was a prime location for a military stronghold, so Saul knew that the Philistines were not going to take the defeat lightly; a larger battle was sure to come. Saul blows a trumpet to put the Israelites on guard.

As Saul had predicted, the Philistines responded to the defeat with a massive army. However, for some reason, Saul chose to leave Michmash, calling his army to Gilgal. In doing so Saul leaves the city to be taken back by the Philistine army, cutting him off from the rest of Israel. The Philistines also gained the high ground advantage. Not surprisingly, many of the Israelites flee in fear.

Samuel instructs Saul to wait for 7 days, at which point Samuel was to appear. The passage doesn't tell us if this was something Samuel and Saul had worked out before the first battle, or if Samuel left the scene and was set to return in 7 days. We also aren't told if Samuel was to appear with a larger army, or simply with a message from God. Either way, Samuel does not return in the appointed time. Panicking, the troops begin to scatter and Saul decides to take matters into his own hands. We often run out of patience with God and take matters in our own hands, too. These decisions never turn out well.

Saul decided to take over the role of priest. Thinking it would help their cause, he offers sacrifices to God, which was something only to be done by real priests. When Samuel sees this, he is quick to condemn Saul's actions. Samuel informs Saul that he will not be king forever and that God has already found a replacement (David).

It is interesting that God does not remove Saul from leadership right then. It could have been that Saul had not fully fulfilled his purpose yet, or that David wasn't ready yet. God knows our destinies well before we are equipped to take them on. This is likely one of those examples. Samuel's message to Saul was meant to humble him. He may not have been destined to rule Israel forever, but he still had the option to turn back to the path of God.

Saul's rash action did nothing to help his army. Despite attempting to fix the issue on his own, he was left with only 600 men. Hesitant and fearful, Saul's army was blocked from obtaining weapons by the Philistines. Jonathan and Saul were the only men in the camp equipped to fight a battle.

Jonathan's Plan

More confident and faithful than his father, Jonathan decides to infiltrate the enemy camp. He and the man who bore his armor sneak away and into the Philistine's camp. Jonathan reasons that if they are invited in, it will be a sign that God has delivered the Philistines to their hand. When this occurs, the two men begin slaying men.

From afar, Saul and the army notice the commotion. It is only then that they discover Jonathan's absence. Coming to the aid of the two men, Saul's army attacks the Philistines. At the sight of Israel gaining the upper hand, many of the Israelites who had abandoned Saul rejoin the army. This included people who had surrendered to the Philistines. God delivers Israel another victory, thanks to Jonathan's bravery.

Saul's Oath

Before going into battle, Saul declares an oath that the army will fast. Now, from my point of view, this seems to be a bad idea for going into battle. I'm not an expert in battles or wars, but it seems to me that you would want the strength and nourishment of a decent meal going into battle—obviously you wouldn't want overfed soldiers who are sluggish, but a happy medium seems like it would provide both strength and morale. Apparently, Saul thought otherwise (perhaps this was for spiritual reasons).

Jonathan doesn't hear this oath, so when they come across some honey, Jonathan thinks nothing of eating it. The honey gives Jonathan a renewed sense of strength, while the others remain tired. The rest of the army questions Jonathan's actions and only then does Jonathan realize something is wrong. Learning of his father's oath, Jonathan knows that this will not bode well for the army.

It is after the oath is fulfilled that the ramifications of this act come to pass. The Israelites are famished so they begin eating the spoils of war without draining the blood. God commanded us not to eat the blood of the animals from the time Noah stepped off the ark in Genesis 9, so this wasn't just a breach of the Israelite covenant, but a breach all the way back to the first covenant! To remedy the issue, Saul builds an altar to properly sacrifice the animals; though, technically, he wasn't supposed to offer sacrifices away from the tabernacle. More than likely this was considered ok due to circumstance. God allowed the Israelites to kill animals for food within their own towns since it would have been a burden for some of them to get to the tabernacle. However, they still were forbidden from consuming the blood.[2][3][4][5]

Another Battle

Saul suggests they conquer the remaining Philistines at night. Both Saul and the priests consult God before acting on this decision; this shows a much needed return to godliness in Israel. When Saul cannot hear an answer from God, he is convinced sin is in the camp. As Saul attempts to get rid of the sin within the camp, none of the soldiers rat out Jonathan. This is an interesting show of loyalty. The soldiers knew that Jonathan's sin, though unintentional, was likely the cause of God's silence, but they also knew it was an accident and did not want to see Jonathan harmed.

Determined to get to the bottom of the issue, Saul casts lots. He first separates the army from him and his son to see if it's the army or family. When the lot lands on he and Jonathan, he knows that it is one of them that has sinned. Saul casts lots once again to reveal that it is Jonathan who has sinned. Jonathan does not make up excuses or run from his actions, instead he confesses that he ate the honey. Saul, true to his oath, announces that his son must die. Once again the soldiers come to Jonathan's defense. Because of their protests, Jonathan is spared.

Saul does not fight the Philistines at this moment, likely because God never answered due to Jonathan's sin. Saul does however fight many battles during his reign. Saul defeats the Amalekites. He also wars with Moab, Edom, Ammon, and Zobah. The war between Israel and Philistine continues throughout his reign as well.

Saul's Family

The last few verses of 1 Samuel 14 give us information on Saul's descendants. We learn that he had three sons and two daughters. The sons were Jonathan, Ishui, and Melchishua and the daughters, Merab and Michal. Saul married a woman named Ahinoam. The captain of Saul's army, Abner, was his first cousin. None of these people succeed Saul when he loses the crown.

References and Footnotes

  1. "America's Wars: U.S. Casualties and Veterans". Info Please. 2016
  2. Leviticus 17:2-4
  3. Deuteronomy 12:5-7
  4. Deuteronomy 12:15
  5. Mike. "Where in the Bible does it say that sacrifice can only be done on the temple?". Christianity Stack Exchange. February 2013

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