THE BRAVE YOUNG PRINCE
I Samuel 13:1 to 14:46
THE people had hoped that when they should have a king to lead them in war they might break the power of the Philistines, who were still rulers over a large part of the land. But after Saul had been king two years the Philistines seemed to be stronger than ever. They held many walled towns on the hills, and from these their warriors went out robbing the villages and taking away the crops from the farmers, so that the men of Israel were kept very poor and in great fear.
The Philistines would not allow the Israelites to do any work in iron, in order to keep them from making swords, and spears for themselves. When a man wished to have his iron plowshare sharpened or to have a new one made, he must go to the Philistines for the work. So when Saul gathered an army, scarcely any of the men could find swords or spears, and Saul and his son Jonathan were the only ones who wore suits of armor to protect them from the darts of the enemy.
Saul gathered together a little army, of which a part was with him at Michmash, and another part with his son Jonathan at Gibeah, five miles to the south. Jonathan, who was a very brave young man, led his band against the Philistines at Geba, halfway between Gibeah and Michmash, and took that place from them. The news of this fight went through the land, and the Philistines came up the mountains with a great army, having chariots and horsemen. Saul blew a trumpet and called the Israelites to the old camp at Gilgal, down in the valley of the Jordan; and many came, but they came trembling with fear of the Philistines.
Samuel had told him not to march from Gilgal until he should come to offer a sacrifice and to call upon God. But Samuel delayed coming, and Saul grew impatient, for he saw his men scattering. At last Saul could wait no longer. He offered a sacrifice himself, though he was no priest. But while the offering was still burning on the altar Samuel came. He said to Saul, "What is this that you have done?"
And Saul answered, "I saw that my men were scattering, and I feared that the enemy might come down upon me, so I offered the sacrifice myself, since you were not here."
"You have done wrong," said Samuel. "You have not kept God's commands. If you had obeyed and trusted the Lord, he would have kept you in safety. But now God will find some other man who will do his will, a man after his own heart, and God will in his own time take the kingdom from you and give it to him."
And Samuel left camp and went away, leaving Saul. Saul led his men, only six hundred, up the mountains to Geba, the place which Jonathan had taken. Across the valley near Michmash was the host of the Philistines in plain sight. One morning Jonathan and the young man who waited on him went down the hill toward the camp of the Philistines. This servant of Jonathan was called his armor-bearer, because he carried Jonathan's shield, and sword, and spear, to have them ready when needed.
Jonathan could see the Philistines just across the valley. He said, "If the Philistines say to us, 'Come over,' we will go and fight them, even though we two are alone, for we will take it as a sign that God will help us."
The Philistines saw the two Israelites standing on a rock across the valley, and they called to them, "Come over here, and we will show you something."
Then Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, "Come on, for the Lord has given them into our hand."
Then they crossed the valley and came suddenly up to the Philistines, and struck them down right and left, without giving them a moment. Some fell down, but others ran away, and soon, as their fellow-soldiers saw them running, they, too, became frightened, and everybody began to run to and fro. Some fought the men who were running away, and before many minutes the Israelites on the hill across the valley could see the Philistines fighting and killing each other, the men running in every direction and their army melting away.
Then Saul and his men came across the valley and joined in the fight; and other Israelites who were in the camp of the Philistines, and under their control, rose against them; and the tribes near at hand came forth and pursued them as they fled. So on that day a great victory was won over the Philistines.
But a great mistake was made by King Saul on the day of the victory. He feared that his men would turn aside from following the Philistines to seize the spoil in their camp, and when the battle began King Saul said, "Let the curse of God light on any man who takes food until the evening. Whoever takes any food before the sun goes down shall die, so that there may be no delay in destroying our enemies."
So on that day no man ate any food until it was evening, and they were faint and feeble from hunger. They were so worn out that they could not chase the Philistines further, and many of the Philistines escaped. That afternoon, as they were driving the Philistines through a forest, they found honey on the trees; but no man tasted it, because of Saul's oath before the Lord, that whoever took a mouthful of food should be put to death."
But Jonathan had not heard of his father's command. He took some honey and was made stronger by it. They said to Jonathan, "Your father commanded all the people not to take any food until the sun goes down, saying 'May the curse of God come upon any one who eats anything until the evening.' " When Jonathan heard of his father's word, he said, "My father has given us all great trouble; for if the men could have taken some food they would have been stronger to fight and to kill their enemies."
On that night Saul found that Jonathan had broken his command, though he knew it not at the time. He said, "I have taken an oath before the Lord, and now, Jonathan, you must die, though you are my own son."
But the people would not allow Jonathan to be put to death, even to keep Saul's oath. They said, "Shall Jonathan die, after he has done such a great deed, and won the victory, and saved the people? Not a hair of his head shall fall, for he has done God's work this day!"
And they rescued Jonathan from the hand of the king and set him free. A great victory had been won, but Saul had already shown that he was not fit to rule, because he was too hasty in his acts and his words, and because he was not careful to obey God's command.
The Philistines after this battle stayed for a time in their own land beside the Great Sea, and did not trouble the Israelites upon the mountains.