1 Samuel 13
“God Is Out Looking for Your Replacement”
Saul was a young man when he began as king. He was king over Israel for many years.
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.
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!
Jonathan and His Armor Bearer
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.
1 Samuel 14:1-23
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!
Straight to the Battle
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.