1 Samuel 14:16–23

"So the Lord saved Israel that day, and the battle shifted to Beth Aven" (v. 23).

The commotion in the Philistine camp soon comes to the notice of the Israelite watchmen. Something obviously is going on, but just what isn’t clear—our text says the sentinels see the Philistine force “melting away,” which suggests they are fleeing or striking one another down. No matter what is happening, Saul sees the need to muster his small force of six hundred men (14:2) so that they are ready to fight or to retreat. But the muster reveals that Jonathan and his armorbearer are missing. The mystery is growing deeper.

Desiring to know what to do, Saul calls for “ ‘the ark of God.’ ” It is unclear whether this is a reference to the ark of the covenant; some ancient manuscripts say “ephod” at this point. At last report, the ark was at Kirjath Jearim (7:1), but the ephod is at the camp (14:3). Also, the ark is not a tool for discerning God’s will, while the ephod is. In any case, Saul wants to inquire of God. However, as he talks to the priest, the tumult in the Philistine camp continues to escalate. Suddenly, Saul decides that he does not need to request God’s input. His course now seems clear—he must attack. Once again, circumstances cause Saul to proceed before taking the time to know God’s thoughts. His impetuosity and self-reliance manifest themselves once more.

Saul and his little force then rush across to the Philistine camp. When they arrive, they find mass confusion. Sure enough, the Philistines are fighting among themselves, a clear sign that God’s hand is at work, just as at other times in Israel’s history (Judg. 7:22; 2 Chron. 20:23). This turn of events encourages certain Israelites who have been taken into the service of the Philistines to side with Saul’s men against their enemy. And Saul gets even more help from Israelites who deserted and hid themselves when the Philistines first invaded; heartened by the report of the Philistine infighting, they come down to help finish the rout. Thus reinforced, Saul drives the Philistines back to the west.

But the author of 1 Samuel is careful to note that it is not Saul, not Jonathan, and not the Israelite soldiers who deserve the credit for this victory. He writes, “The Lord saved Israel that day.” As He has so often in the history of His people, God intervenes to deliver the Israelites from their oppressor. To Him alone belongs the credit for this great, improbable victory.

Coram Deo

Saul gives the appearance of “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). Hegives more heed to rituals than to the God behind them. Rituals are good so long as they bring uscloser to God; otherwise, they are empty. What are some rituals you observe in your Christianlife? Are they helping or hindering your growth?

For Further Study