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Jonathan Was the Eldest and Favorite Son of the Benjamite King Saul
Saul’s sons were Jonathan, Ishvi, and Malki-Shua. His daughters were Merab, the firstborn, and Michal, the younger. Saul’s wife was Ahinoam, daughter of Ahimaaz. Abner son of Ner was commander of Saul’s army (Ner was Saul’s uncle). Kish, Saul’s father, and Ner, Abner’s father, were the sons of Abiel. (1 Sam 14:49-50) Jonathan is particularly noted for his loving and unselfish friendship for and hi great concern and support of the new king-designate, David.
Saul conscripted enough men for three companies of soldiers. He kept two companies under his command at Micmash and in the Bethel hills. The other company was under Jonathan at Gibeah in Benjamin. He sent the rest of the men home. (1 Sam 13:2) At this time, Jonathan would probably have been at least 20-years-old and therefore at least approaching 60-years old when he died in about 1078 B.C.E. (Num. 1:3) King David was 30-years-old when Jonathan died. (1 Sam 31:2; 2 Sam. 5:4) So, throughout their friendship, Jonathan was obviously some 30 years older than David. Since Jonathan was a grown young man at the times of Saul becoming the king, this might help to better understand his character, attitude, temperament, and outlook. During his developmental years, Jonathan very well may have been influenced by his father who evidenced modesty, obedience, and respect for God, Israel, and the kingdom.
1 Samuel 9:7, 21, 26; 10:20-22: Saul said, “If we go, what do we have to give him? There’s no more bread in our sacks. We’ve nothing to bring as a gift to the holy man. Do we have anything else?” Saul answered, “But I’m only a Benjaminite, from the smallest of Israel’s tribes, and from the most insignificant clan in the tribe at that. Why are you talking to me like this?” They woke at the break of day. Samuel called to Saul on the roof, “Get up and I’ll send you off.” Saul got up and the two of them went out in the street. After Samuel got all the tribes of Israel lined up, the Benjamin tribe was picked. Then he lined up the Benjamin tribe in family groups, and the family of Matri was picked. The family of Matri took its place in the lineup, and the name Saul, son of Kish, was picked. But when they went looking for him, he was nowhere to be found. Samuel went back to God: “Is he anywhere around God said, “Yes, he’s right over there—hidden in that pile of baggage.”
1 Samual 13:3–14:23: Jonathan attacked and killed the Philistine governor stationed at Geba (Gibeah). When the Philistines heard the news, they raised the alarm: “The Hebrews are in revolt!” Saul ordered the reveille trumpets blown throughout the land. The word went out all over Israel, “Saul has killed the Philistine governor—drawn first blood! The Philistines are stirred up and mad as hornets!” Summoned, the army came to Saul at Gilgal. The Philistines rallied their forces to fight Israel: three companies of chariots, six companies of cavalry, and so many infantry they looked like sand on the seashore. They went up into the hills and set up camp at Micmash, east of Beth Aven. When the Israelites saw that they were way outnumbered and in deep trouble, they ran for cover, hiding in caves and pits, ravines and brambles and cisterns—wherever. They retreated across the Jordan River, refugees fleeing to the country of Gad and Gilead. But Saul held his ground in Gilgal, his soldiers still with him but scared to death. He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel. Samuel failed to show up at Gilgal, and the soldiers were slipping away, right, and left. So Saul took charge: “Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings!” He went ahead and sacrificed the burnt offering. No sooner had he done it than Samuel showed up! Saul greeted him. Samuel said, “What on earth are you doing?” Saul answered, “When I saw I was losing my army from under me, and that you hadn’t come when you said you would, and that the Philistines were poised at Micmash, I said, ‘The Philistines are about to come down on me in Gilgal, and I haven’t yet come before God asking for his help.’ So I took things into my own hands, and sacrificed the burnt offering.” “That was a fool thing to do,” Samuel said to Saul. “If you had kept the appointment that your God commanded, by now God would have set a firm and lasting foundation under your kingly rule over Israel. As it is, your kingly rule is already falling to pieces. God is out looking for your replacement right now. This time he’ll do the choosing. When he finds him, he’ll appoint him leader of his people. And all because you didn’t keep your appointment with God!” At that, Samuel got up and left Gilgal. What army there was left followed Saul into battle. They went into the hills from Gilgal toward Gibeah in Benjamin. Saul looked over and assessed the soldiers still with him—a mere six hundred! Saul, his son Jonathan, and the soldiers who had remained made camp at Geba (Gibeah) of Benjamin. The Philistines were camped at Micmash. Three squads of raiding parties were regularly sent out from the Philistine camp. One squadron was assigned to the Ophrah road going toward Shual country; another was assigned to the Beth Horon road; the third took the border road that rimmed the Valley of Hyenas. There wasn’t a blacksmith to be found anywhere in Israel. The Philistines made sure of that—“Lest those Hebrews start making swords and spears.” That meant that the Israelites had to go down among the Philistines to keep their farm tools—plowshares and mattocks, axes and sickles—sharp and in good repair. They charged a silver coin for the plowshares and mattocks, and half that for the rest. So when the battle of Micmash was joined, there wasn’t a sword or spear to be found anywhere in Israel—except for Saul and his son Jonathan; they were both well-armed. A patrol of Philistines took up a position at Micmash Pass.
Later that day, Jonathan, Saul’s son, said to his armor-bearer, “Come on, let’s go over to the Philistine garrison patrol on the other side of the pass.” But he didn’t tell his father. Meanwhile, Saul was taking it easy under the pomegranate tree at the threshing floor on the edge of town at Geba (Gibeah). There were about six hundred men with him. Ahijah, wearing the priestly Ephod, was also there. (Ahijah was the son of Ahitub, brother of Ichabod, son of Phinehas, who was the son of Eli the priest of God at Shiloh.) No one there knew that Jonathan had gone off. The pass that Jonathan was planning to cross over to the Philistine garrison was flanked on either side by sharp rock outcroppings, cliffs named Bozez and Seneh. The cliff to the north faced Micmash; the cliff to the south faced Geba (Gibeah). Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Come on now, let’s go across to these uncircumcised pagans. Maybe God will work for us. There’s no rule that says God can only deliver by using a big army. No one can stop God from saving when he sets his mind to it.” His armor-bearer said, “Go ahead. Do what you think best. I’m with you all the way.” Jonathan said, “Here’s what we’ll do. We’ll cross over the pass and let the men see we’re there. If they say, ‘Halt! Don’t move until we check you out,’ we’ll stay put and not go up. But if they say, ‘Come on up,’ we’ll go right up—and we’ll know God has given them to us. That will be our sign.” So they did it, the two of them. They stepped into the open where they could be seen by the Philistine garrison. The Philistines shouted out, “Look at that! The Hebrews are crawling out of their holes!” Then they yelled down to Jonathan and his armor-bearer, “Come on up here! We’ve got a thing or two to show you!” Jonathan shouted to his armor-bearer, “Up! Follow me! God has turned them over to Israel!” Jonathan scrambled up on all fours, his armor-bearer right on his heels. When the Philistines came running up to them, he knocked them flat, his armor-bearer right behind finishing them off, bashing their heads in with stones. In this first bloody encounter, Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed about twenty men. That set off a terrific upheaval in both camp and field, the soldiers in the garrison and the raiding squad badly shaken up, the ground itself shuddering—panic like you’ve never seen before! Saul’s sentries posted back at Geba (Gibeah) in Benjamin saw the confusion and turmoil raging in the camp. Saul commanded, “Line up and take the roll. See who’s here and who’s missing.” When they called the roll, Jonathan and his armor-bearer turned up missing. Saul ordered Ahijah, “Bring the priestly Ephod. Let’s see what God has to say here.” (Ahijah was responsible for the Ephod in those days.) While Saul was in conversation with the priest, the upheaval in the Philistine camp became greater and louder. Then Saul interrupted Ahijah: “Put the Ephod away.” Saul immediately called his army together and they went straight to the battle. When they got there they found total confusion—Philistines swinging their swords wildly, killing each other. Hebrews who had earlier defected to the Philistine camp came back. They now wanted to be with Israel under Saul and Jonathan. Not only that but when all the Israelites who had been hiding out in the backwoods of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were running for their lives, they came out and joined the chase. God saved Israel! What a day! The fighting moved on to Beth Aven. The whole army was behind Saul now—ten thousand strong!—with the fighting scattering into all the towns throughout the hills of Ephraim.
We notice in the above easy to read Bible translation when we being to take notice of Jonathan, he was busy courageously and triumphantly leading a thousand inadequately armed men against the Philistine garrison at Geba. In order to counter this, the enemy gathered at Michmash. Without notifying anyone, not even King Saul, Jonathan and his armor-bearer left and approached the outpost of the enemy. Within this one action, we get a real sense of Jonathan’s valor, determination, and courage. He had a gift of being able to inspire his men, he was very influential, but unlike his father, he was humble and always gave credit and recognized that it was God leading him and his men, as he knew his actions were dependent on a sign from God. Jonathan and his armor-bearer boldly beat down about 20 Philistines. This resulted in a full-scale battle, which then resulted in a victory for Israel.
1 Samuel 14:24-45: Saul did something really foolish that day. He addressed the army: “A curse on the man who eats anything before evening before I’ve wreaked vengeance on my enemies!” None of them ate a thing all day. There were honeycombs here and there in the fields. But no one so much as put his finger in the honey to taste it, for the soldiers to a man feared the curse. But Jonathan hadn’t heard his father put the army under oath. He stuck the tip of his staff into some honey and ate it. Refreshed, his eyes lit up with renewed vigor. A soldier spoke up, “Your father has put the army under solemn oath, saying, ‘A curse on the man who eats anything before evening!’ No wonder the soldiers are drooping!” Jonathan said, “My father has imperiled the country. Just look how quickly my energy has returned since I ate a little of this honey! It would have been a lot better, believe me, if the soldiers had eaten their fill of whatever they took from the enemy. Who knows how much worse we could have whipped them!” They killed Philistines that day all the way from Micmash to Aijalon, but the soldiers ended up totally exhausted. Then they started plundering. They grabbed anything in sight—sheep, cattle, calves—and butchered it where they found it. Then they glutted themselves—meat, blood, the works. Saul was told, “Do something! The soldiers are sinning against God. They’re eating meat with the blood still in it!” Saul said, “You’re biting the hand that feeds you! Roll a big rock over here—now!” He continued, “Disperse among the troops and tell them, ‘Bring your oxen and sheep to me and butcher them properly here. Then you can feast to your heart’s content. Please don’t sin against God by eating meat with the blood still in it.’” And so they did. That night each soldier, one after another, led his animal there to be butchered. That’s the story behind Saul’s building an altar to God. It’s the first altar to God that he built.
Saul said, “Let’s go after the Philistines tonight! We can spend the night looting and plundering. We won’t leave a single live Philistine!” “Sounds good to us,” said the troops. “Let’s do it!” But the priest slowed them down: “Let’s find out what God thinks about this.” So Saul prayed to God, “Shall I go after the Philistines? Will you put them in Israel’s hand?” God didn’t answer him on that occasion. Saul then said, “All army officers, step forward. Some sin has been committed this day. We’re going to find out what it is and who did it! As God lives, Israel’s Savior God, whoever sinned will die, even if it should turn out to be Jonathan, my son!” Nobody said a word. Saul said to the Israelites, “You line up over on that side, and I and Jonathan my son will stand on this side.” The army agreed, “Fine. Whatever you say.” Then Saul prayed to God, “O God of Israel, why haven’t you answered me today? Show me the truth. If the sin is in me or Jonathan, then, O God, give the sign Urim. But if the sin is in the army of Israel, give the sign Thummim.” The Urim sign turned up and pointed to Saul and Jonathan. That cleared the army. Next Saul said, “Cast the lots between me and Jonathan—and death to the one God points to!” The soldiers protested, “No—this is not right. Stop this!” But Saul pushed on anyway. They cast the lots, Urim and Thummim, and the lot fell to Jonathan. Saul confronted Jonathan. “What did you do? Tell me!” Jonathan said, “I licked a bit of honey off the tip of the staff I was carrying. That’s it—and for that I’m to die?” Saul said, “Yes. Jonathan most certainly will die. It’s out of my hands—I can’t go against God, can I?” The soldiers rose up: “Jonathan—die? Never! He’s just carried out this stunning salvation victory for Israel. As surely as God lives, not a hair on his head is going to be harmed. Why, he’s been working hand-in-hand with God all day!” The soldiers rescued Jonathan and he didn’t die.
We can clearly see from the above that Saul’s heart attitude had clearly changed. As the fighting was taking place, he foolishly and hastily swore a curse on any fighters eating before the battle had ended. His son Jonathan was sadly uninformed of this; thus, he ate some honey. In time, he was confronted by Saul, but Jonathan did not flinch or shy away from dying for having eaten the honey. Thankfully, he was rescued by the people, who were able to see that God was with clearly him that day. These achievements certainly showed all that Jonathan was a courageous, intelligent, competent, brave, and noble warrior. Clearly, even his father must have been well aware of what a great man his son was, which made them very close. However, Jonathan did not allow his great love for his earthly father to overshadow his love for his heavenly Father, nor dissuade him from being loyal to his friend David. – 1 Samuel 20:2, 20; 2 Samuel 1:22-23.
1 Samuel 16:14-23: At that very moment the Spirit of God left Saul and in its place, a black mood sent by God settled on him. He was terrified. Saul’s advisors said, “This awful tormenting depression from God is making your life miserable. O Master, let us help. Let us look for someone who can play the harp. When the black mood from God moves in, he’ll play his music and you’ll feel better.” Saul told his servants, “Go ahead. Find me someone who can play well and bring him to me.” One of the young men spoke up, “I know someone. I’ve seen him myself: the son of Jesse of Bethlehem, an excellent musician. He’s also courageous, of age, well-spoken, and good-looking. And God is with him.” So Saul sent messengers to Jesse requesting, “Send your son David to me, the one who tends the sheep.” Jesse took a donkey, loaded it with a couple of loaves of bread, a flask of wine, and a young goat, and sent his son David with it to Saul. David came to Saul and stood before him. Saul liked him immediately and made him his right-hand man [armor-bearer]. Saul sent word back to Jesse: “Thank you. David will stay here. He’s just the one I was looking for. I’m very impressed by him.” After that, whenever the bad depression from God tormented Saul, David got out his harp and played. That would calm Saul down, and he would feel better as the moodiness lifted.
1 Samuel 18:1: By the time David had finished reporting to Saul, Jonathan was deeply impressed with David—an immediate bond was forged between them. He became totally committed to David. From that point on he would be David’s number-one advocate and friend.
The more literal rendering, “Was knit with the soul of David” occurs of Jacob’s love for Benjamin. Jonathan’s truly heroic character is shown in this generous love of David, and admiration of his great deed. The special bond between David and Jonathan began soon after young David had killed Goliath. Such a fearless action on the part of a young boy must have impressed Jonathan. Hearing David’s reckoning of it, “The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.”
1 Samuel 18:3: Jonathan, out of his deep love for David, made a covenant with him.
Jonathan did not jealously see David as competition for the throne or for taking much of his father’s attention. It would be Saul who would get jealous and fearful. Rather, Jonathan respected God and how He chose to handle matters, which set a fine example for young David. When King Saul ordered him to kill David, Jonathan refused to carry it out, and instead, he went and warned David. In time, David had to flee and Jonathan covertly met up with him and they formed a covenant, wherein Jonathan would protect David and his household. – 1Sa 19:1–20:17.
1 Samuel 20:40-41; 23:16-18: Jonathan gave his quiver and bow to the boy and sent him back to town. After the servant was gone, David got up from his hiding place beside the boulder, then fell on his face to the ground—three times prostrating himself! And then they kissed one another and wept, friend over friend, David weeping especially hard. Jonathan, Saul’s son, visited David at Horesh and encouraged him in God. He said, “Don’t despair. My father, Saul, can’t lay a hand on you. You will be Israel’s king and I’ll be right at your side to help. And my father knows it.” Then the two of them made a covenant before God. David stayed at Horesh and Jonathan went home.
A touching example of mutual fidelity between friends. The humility and unselfish love for Jonathan are apparent. There is nothing in the Bible to suggest that Jonathan shared with his father in his campaigns against David. However, when it came to the battle against the Israelite People’s enemies, that id God’s enemies, the Philistines, Jonathan battled to the death. He died on the same day as his father and two of his brothers. The animalistic Philistines hung the dead bodies on the walls at Beth-shan. This was, possibly, in vengeance for the similar treatment of the head of Goliath (1 Sam. 17:54) Despite the danger, valiant men of Jabesh-Gilead removed them. They were then buried in Jabesh. David would later move the bones of Saul and Jonathan to Zela. (1 Sam. 31:1-13; 2 Sam. 21:12-14; 1 Chron. 10:1-12) David profoundly mourned and grieved the death of his dear friend Jonathan, even singing over Saul and Jonathan the funeral lament entitled “The Bow.” (2 Sam. 1:17-27)
King David bestowed exceptional kindness to Jonathan’s lame son Mephibosheth. He was five years old at Saul’s death. He may have been thirteen at David’s accession to the throne of Israel. In the eighth year of David’s reign over all Israel, he would have been twenty-one. His having had a son at this time (2 Sam. 9:12) indicates that we are about the 10th year of David’s reign. He would eventually come to have a permanent place at King David’s table. (2 Sam. 4:4; 9:10-13) Jonathan’s family line continued for generations. – 1 Chron. 8:33-40.
NOTE: The Message (MSG) 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson, a paraphrase of the Bible was used here to kind of give it a story feel to the account. This author and Christian Publishing House do not favor the use of a paraphrase translation or dynamic equivalent translation (e.g., CEV, TEV, NLT, NIV, etc.), but rather as mini commentaries to be used with literal translations. (ASV, RSV, ESV, CSB, NASB and the UASV) So, always use a literal translation as your study Bible and the Bible that you take to church with you and never read a paraphrase or an interpretive translation without a literal translation.
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