The contrast between Jonathan and his father, Saul was set in motion when Jonathan acted independently of his father by initiating a small, covert military mission “to the Philistine outpost on the other side” (1 Samuel 14: 1). Going north, Jonathan and his armor-bearer encountered a Philistine outpost overlooking a narrow pass.
As they approached the Philistine camp, Jonathan reaffirmed his intentions to “Come and let us cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; perhaps the Lord will work for us, for the Lord is not restrained to save by many or by few.” Jonathan used this time to reaffirm his faith with a prayerful announcement, “perhaps the Lord will work for us.” He also made a confession of confidence in God’s power to bring victory against all odds.
Jonathan received encouragement from his armor-bearer. He pledged total support for whatever actions Jonathan might take. This degree of loyalty would be needed, especially in view of Jonathan’s plan for action. Jonathan’s plan for fighting the Philistines defied all military logic.
- First, he would give up the element of surprise: “We will cross over toward the men and let them see us” (1 Samuel 14:8).
- Second, he would avoid a skirmish with the Philistines if they abandoned their position of strategic superiority on the hilltop and exhausted themselves coming down to his position. On the other hand, he would attack if they challenged him to scale the sheer rock wall and then take them on.
The two men proceeded with Jonathan’s plan. The Philistines, were surprised by this reckless plan. They then taunted Jonathan and his armor- bearer with an artful double entendre, inviting them to “Come up to us and we will tell you something.”
Jonathan interpreted the Philistines’ words as the divine confirmation that the Lord would make him victorious. The two began a difficult climb that required both “hands and feet.” The climb was made even more challenging by stones and arrows rained down on them from the Philistines.
Against all odds, Jonathan and his companion arrived safely at the top with enough strength and stamina to defeat a squad of armed Philistines. When the battle was over, “some twenty men” lay dead.
News of Jonathan’s stunning victory spread quickly to the main Philistine camp. The Philistines were little more than one-half mile away. When they heard, the Philistines were struck with “great trembling.” The panic led to a abrupt retreat. Saul rallied his forces to determine who was responsible for the incident that touched off the Philistine stampede. He quickly discovered “it was Jonathan and his armor-bearer” (1 Samuel 14:17).
With the Philistine forces terrified and on the run, the time was right for the Israelites to attack. Sensing that he was about to lose a golden opportunity to rout the enemy, Saul did the unthinkable—he ordered Ahijah to suspend his priestly activities before they were completed. This incredible interruption of the divine pattern—an action without precedent in the Bible—was intended to enable Israel to win an even greater victory over the Philistines.
Again, this story depicts Saul as spiritually inept and insensitive to the Lord’s ways. Any breach of the Lord’s instruction diminishes the good that could have resulted (1 Samuel 14:30).
When Saul and his men reached the Philistines, he found them fighting themselves.
The Philistines made a mad dash to return to their homeland. Saul’s forces swelled as other Israelites, previously deserted due to fear and hopelessness, joined them (1 Samuel 14:23). Though many Israelites had participated in the battle that day, the writer does not give Israel credit for the victory. Instead, it was the Lord who “rescued Israel that day.” He reaffirmed Jonathan’s words of faith earlier that “perhaps the Lord will work for us, for the Lord is not restrained to save by many or by few.” (1 Samuel 14:6).