In 1 Samuel 13:16–23, the Philistines began their retaliation by establishing Micmash as their base camp. Then they sent out “raiding parties” to control three of the roads that provided access to Micmash. A fourth detachment was sent later “to the pass at Micmash” (1 Samuel 13:23) to prevent Israelite troops moving north from Geba. These Philistine troop deployments had the double benefit of securing the Philistine camp at Micmash while at the same time sealing off Saul’s camp at Geba from any reinforcements that might come from Israelite tribes to the north.
Saul and his troops were very much at risk with the largest recorded Philistine army camped less than two miles away and all hope of assistance from the northern tribes being denied them. The situation was made even worse by the great disparity between Israelite and Philistine weapons. The Philistines possessed large numbers of metal weapons. But by strictly controlling Israel’s access to black smiths, the Philistines effectively limited the entire Israelite arsenal to primitive weapons made of wood and stone—arrows, slings, javelins, clubs, knives, and the like. Israel’s weapons could certainly be deadly, but they were inferior to those made of bronze and iron. The Philistine embargo was so effective that when armed conflict broke out between Israel’s royal army and the Philistines, “only Saul and his son Jonathan” had a metal “sword or spear” (1 Samuel 13:22).
In Samuel 13:5–23 The author carefully included specific details regarding the enormity of the Philistine threat and the minimal level of Israel’s military readiness to fight. Clearly, from a human standpoint Israel’s situation was hopeless: the Israelite armies were desperate. They were cut off from its northern comrades. And an enemy vastly outnumbered with thousands of chariots, horses, and soldiers with superior weapons. Yet as the present narrative demonstrates, “The Lord rescued Israel that day” (1 Samuel 14:23; compare Exodus 14:30) as the direct result of a single individual’s bold faith. The point of the passage is also the point of Exodus 14, to which some interesting parallels exist; no situation is hopeless for Israel because Yahweh is Israel’s God, and “nothing can hinder the Lord from saving.” This passage demonstrates, faith-filled human initiative can serve as an entrance point for the Lord’s saving action.
Here we notice what will be a persistent pattern throughout the remainder of 1 Samuel. The writer draws a sharp contrast between Jonathan and his father. Here the contrast is in how they express their relationship with God in a military context. In start contrast, Saul the commander publicly dishonored the Lord through fear-inspired disobedience. Jonathan the warrior would bring honor to the Lord through his fearless faith. Jonathan’s faith in the face of a military threat was a sharp contrast to his father, Saul.