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from Beth-Aven, an immense army, described as the sand which is on the sea shore in multitude, with thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen.
Alarmed at the formidable appearance of the enemy, most of the Israelites withdrew from Saul; and he with difficulty induced a small number to remain with him in Gilyal, where he was waiting for Samuel, according to the directions of that prophet when he anointed him.*
The prescribed seven days having expired, and six hundred men only remaining, and those without any sword or spear, † either through want of faith, or excess of impatience, Saul ventured to offer up a burnt offering; and which sacrifice he had hardly completed, when Samuel arrived. Upon Saul's offering in excuse the prophet's delay, the paucity of bis own troops, and the imposing appearance of the Philistines, Samuel exclaimed, “thou hast done foolishly; thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee; for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever. But now thy kingdom shall not continue; the Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee.”+
Samuel departed from Gilgal to Gibrah of Benjamin ; and thus rejected by God, deserted by his army, and abandoned by the prophet, Saul and Jonathan, and the few troops that remained, withdrew to Gibeah also; leaving the Philistine army encamped in Michmash, from whence they sent out three bands to pursue the Israelites, and harass the country.
The sacred writer then relates a brave and daring action of Jonathan, which would well deserve the character of rashness and imprudence, had we not reason to believe, that
although the Lord had, as it were, given up Saul, yet that he inspired Jonathan to perform it, in order to shew that he had not wholly withdrawn his presence from his own people.
Whilst Saul and the remnant of his army were thus lying at Gibeah, and expecting no doubt every moment to be attacked and exterminated by the Philistines, Jonathan secretly withdrew from the camp, taking with him only a young man, his armour bearer, in order to attempt a surprise upon the enemies' garrison at Michmash. In the passage between Michmash and Gibeah, there were two rocks with their backs to each other, or one rock with a double face ; one of which was named Bozez, and the other Seneh.
It would seem that sentinels were placed on the top of this rock; and Jonathan, guided no doubt by a divine impulse, had settled with his armour bearer, that if, on approaching the sentinels, they should say, up to us,” they would do so ; but if the sentinels should say, tarry until we come to you,” then they should stand still. Upon seeing Jonathan and his armour bearer, the Philistines said, “ Behold, the Hebrews come forth out of the holes where they had hid themselves;” and cried out, “ come up to us, and we will shew you a thing." Jonathan evidently felt he was acting under the guidance of God; for having exclaimed to his armour bearer, “ come up after me, for the Lord hath delivered them into the hand of Israel:” he immediately climbed up on his hands and feet, followed by his armour bearer, when they slew twenty men. The alarm produced by this sudden attack, and the miraculous effect of the terror put into their hearts by the Lord, was so great, that the whole garrison fled before them; and could be distinguished by the sentinels of Saul in Gibeah, as beating down one another till the whole multitude melted away.
Saul was so entirely ignorant of what had happened, and so unable to account for the dispersion of the Philistines,
which his scouts reported to him, that he caused a general muster of his own army immediately, to see whether any
of the Israelites were concerned in this signal overthrow; when he discovered, for the first time, that his eldest son Jonathan and his armour bearer were missing.
Saul immediately called for the Ark of the Lord; and while he talked with Ahiah the priest, the noise in the camp of the Philistines increased so much, that Saul with his small band of forces ventured to draw near, and reconnoitre them; and perceived that throughout the enemies' host, every man's hand was against his fellow, and that there was a very great discomfiture; not a little increased by the Hebrew slaves in their camp, who took advantage of the consternation to rise against their masters and oppressors, and unite with Jonathan and his armour bearer, who by this time had been joined by his father and the Israelites, as well as those who had hid themselves in Mount Ephraim. So the Lord saved Israel in that day, and the battle passed over unto Beth-Aven.
Such an exploit as this, if related by a heathen writer, or a modern historian, would have become the theme of general eulogy and warm admiration. And, in point of fact, a very similar occurrence, by an English sailor, at the taking of Fort Omoa, in the Bay of Honduras, in the year 1779, has actually produced such an effect. But this exploit of Jonathan, the son of Saul, is related in the Bible; and therefore, like many other most interesting and important transactions, is but little heeded, perhaps hardly known by thousands, who would be ashamed to appear ignorant of the minutest occurrences in English or even general history.
The blessing of God was withdrawn from Saul, so that this victory was not so complete as it most likely would have been, if he had remained in Gibeah. Probably without any bad intent, but very injudiciously, he had issued a proclamation ; “ cursed be the man that eateth any food until the evening, that I may be avenged on mine enemies.” This was strictly observed by all except Jonathan, who, not having heard the injunction, eat a little honey which he found in the wood; and when some of the fainting people informed him of his father's orders, he hesitated not to say,
my father hath troubled the land.” “ If haply the people had eaten freely to day of the spoil of their enemies, there would have been a much greater slaughter amongst the Philistines.”
But the evil did not end here, for the Israelites having pursued the enemy from Michmash to Ajalon, and become inordinately faint and hungry; when the evening at length came, they flew upon the spoil, and slew the sheep, oxen, and calves on the ground, and eat them in their blood, without taking time to perform those rites and observances which the ceremonial law, given by God to Moses, had so strictly enjoined.
This was actual sin against God, and Saul was so sensible of it, and apprehensive of the consequences, that he caused a great stone to be rolled towards him, and every man to bring his ox and sheep, and slay them there, and not to sin against the Lord in eating with blood.
Saul was desirous to pursue after the Philistines, but Ahiah the priest restrained him, and said, “let us draw near hither unto God:” upon which Saul asked counsel of God, “ shall I go down after the Philistines ? wilt thou deliver them into the hand of Israel? But God answered him not that day.”
Upon this Saul began to suspect that some secret sin had been committed amongst the people, like many others not choosing to imagine that the displeasure of his God was chiefly directed towards himself; and rashly swearing, that if it lay even with his son Jonathan he should surely die ; proceeded to cast lots, and called upon the Lord to sanction the proceeding.
The lot having fallen upon Jonathan, he confessed, “I did but taste a little honey with the end of the rod that was in my hand, and lo, I must die.” It does not appear that Saul relented from his purpose, for he immediately answered, “ God do so, and more also : for thou shalt surely die.” The people, however, cried out, “shall Jonathan die, who hath wrought this great salvation in Israel ? God forbid: as the Lord liveth, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground : for he hath wrought with God this day. So the people rescued Jonathan, that he died not.”
This affair put an end to the punishment of the Philistines, who returned to their own territories; and Saul was established in the throne of Israel, and made repeated attacks upon the neighbouring nations of Moab, Ammon, Edom, Zobah, and the Philistines, so that whithersoever he turned himself he vexed them : and gathering an host, he smote the Amalekites, and delivered Israel out of the hands of them that spoiled them.
The next trial of the faith and obedience of Saul, was in an expedition against the Amalekites. Samuel said unto Saul, the Lord sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel : now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of Jehovah. This preface, we may suppose, was by way of warning and admonition to Saul, that his precise and especial obedience was required to the message which the prophet was about to deliver. “ Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way,t when he came
* 1 Sam. xiv. 45. 2 Sam. xxiv. 14. + This was in Rephidim, where Joshua fought with Amalek a whole day, and when Moses' hands being tired, he was supported by Aaron and Har. Exod. xvii. 8-14. And hence we may know what those have to expect who do any injury to the saints of God;