Jonathan Defeats the Philistines
“Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, ‘Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few’ ” (v. 6).- 1 Samuel 14:1–23
Israel wanted a king who would be just like the kind of kings that the other nations had, a king who would fight their battles for them and help their nation achieve status as a great power (1 Sam. 8). And with tall, handsome Saul, the Israelites certainly got as their first king someone who looked the part (chap. 9). But he did not really act like a king. He hid on the day of the anointing, revealing a certain cowardice, and he allowed others to take the initiative in fighting the Philistines, not going up before Israel against them himself (13:1–4). About the only thing he had in common with the kings of the other nations was his disobedience to the Lord—hardly a praiseworthy trait (vv. 5–23).
Against the cowardice and unbelief of Saul, his son Jonathan stood out in sharp relief. We see this particularly in today’s passage. Saul was supposed to be actively fighting the Philistines (9:16), but he was not going up against them as they established outposts in the Israelite-controlled regions of Canaan (14:4). Jonathan could not abide this, so he purposed to go up against a Philistine garrison without telling Saul (v. 1). This implies Jonathan’s lack of trust in his father. Perhaps he thought Saul would hold him back from the fray. Things certainly were dangerous. The Philistine garrison was on the other side of a pass framed by crags named Slippery (“Bozez”) and Thorny (“Seneh”), suggesting a hostile environment (vv. 2–5).
Jonathan was undeterred by these obstacles, and he called his armor bearer to go with him against the Philistine garrison near them. In so doing, Jonathan gave a confession that displays a remarkable degree of faith. First, Jonathan was confident in God’s power, saying that “nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few” (v. 6). Saul’s son well knew that nothing is too difficult for the Lord (Jer. 32:17). Second, Jonathan did not let his confidence become arrogance. He said that “it may be” that the Lord would work for them against the Philistines. Jonathan did not know for certain if God wanted him to fight against that Philistine garrison, but he did know that God could deliver the Philistines into his hand if that was His purpose. He did not claim more than he should have, but he trusted the Lord.
God did intend to defeat the Philistines through Jonathan. He and his armor bearer defeated twenty men, and that led to a greater defeat of the Philistines by the Israelites, for the Lord used Jonathan’s initiative to throw the Philistines into confusion (1 Sam. 13:7–23).
Matthew Henry comments that “an active faith will venture far in God’s cause upon an it may be.” We might be uncertain about the future, but if what we are pursuing is a good thing and we are confident in God’s power, we should not be afraid to pursue it. We are free to step out in faith and attempt great things for the sake of the Lord, knowing that He may bless our initiative.
Passages for Further Study