This week’s meditation and retelling is from 1 Sam 14:1-23.
This is such a crazy story, and to me, it so perfectly illustrates why Jonathan and David became such good friends. In boldness, they were pretty much the same person.
Jonathan had taken down a garrison of Philistines once before (1 Sam 13:3) before this episode ever occurred, which may well have been what gave him the confidence to propose the idea of two of them attacking an entire garrison, with one sword between them. God never told him to do this—it was his own idea, but it was based upon Jonathan’s understanding that Israel had a covenant with God, and the Philistines didn’t (we know this by the fact that he referred to them as “uncircumcised,” the same way that David referred to Goliath). He did include a caveat, at least: if the Philistines said this, it meant God had given them into the hands of Israel. If they said that, it meant he hadn’t, and they should come back another day. But even that, he made up. He just assumed that God would honor the “fleece” he chose. And sure enough, God did!
Why was there only one sword between them, anyway? According to 1 Samuel 13:22, there were only two swords in all of Israel, belonging to the king (Saul) and the crown prince (Jonathan). The Philistines had so oppressed Israel that they had disarmed them, expecting that this would keep this in subjection. No wonder the rest of the Israelites were hiding in caves, even though there were hundreds of them. Not only were the Philistines in a better tactical position, but they had weapons and the Israelites did not. Only Jonathan did not see this as a problem. Like Caleb and Joshua when they saw the giants in the Promised Land, Jonathan was undeterred by what he saw in the natural. When Jonathan and his armor bearer (who didn’t even get a name) moved forward in faith, all they had to do was kill about twenty men. Then, just as in the case of Gideon and the Midianites, God sent fear among the Philistines and they destroyed themselves! Then the Israelites, seeing that their enemy was on the run, decided to join the fight. But it took the faith of Jonathan and his armor bearer to set the whole thing in motion.
“Why exactly are we hiding in this cave?” I wanted to know. I asked the question of my armor bearer, who had been with me since my earliest days as a soldier. He was my servant, but I considered him a dear friend too. Certainly, I respected him far more than I did the majority of my father’s soldiers, six hundred of whom just cowered here in the pomegranate cave at Migron, at my father King Saul’s apparent direction. “The Philistines are right there. Why don’t we just go slaughter them?”
My armor bearer shrugged, as mystified as I was. Yes, the Philistines were large—giants, some of them. It was also true that our men had no swords; the Philistines had gotten rid of all blacksmiths, and had required us to come to them to sharpen our tools for farming, so that they might keep us in submission. The only two swords in our company belonged to my father and myself. So what? The Philistines were uncircumcised! They had no covenant to protect them. We, on the other hand, had the Lord on our side. We literally could not lose. I’d proven this by defeating the garrison of Philistines at Geba, and all the Hebrews had heard of it. Had they already forgotten?
I sighed, frustrated. I refused to sit here and do nothing for another moment. “I have one of the two swords, have I not?” I muttered aloud, and then gestured at my armor bearer. “Well. You do.”
My armor bearer nodded as a slow smile of anticipation crept across his face. “I do indeed!”
I snuck a surreptitious glance at my father, who was in council with several of his cowardly advisors, and did not notice us. Then I looked at my armor bearer and whispered, “Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, by many or by few.”
The armor bearer grinned back at me, eyes bright. “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish, Behold, I am with you heart and soul!”
I loved this guy. I nodded and whispered, “Behold, we will cross over to the men, and we all show ourselves to them. If they say to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place, and we will not go up to them. But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up, for the Lord has given them into our hand. And this shall be the sign to us.”
I added the caveat, just in case the Lord wanted to stop us for some reason. He hadn’t chosen the sign, it was true, but I knew He directed the steps of His faithful ones, and I knew the covenant promised victory to the Israelites. I only wanted to test whether or not this was the way in which He meant for it to occur.
Together, we crept out of the cave, between two rocky crags named Bozez and Seneh. The Philistines spied us approaching from a distance, and we saw their attention turn to us. Once we were in shouting range, they taunted, “Look, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden themselves!” They beckoned us, and cried out, “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing!”
I turned to my armor bearer and we shared a fierce grin. That was exactly what I’d been hoping they’d say. “Come up after me, for the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel!” I declared.
I had to climb up using my hands and feet to where the Philistine garrison waited. My armor bearer came after me, sword in its hilt at his side. When I finally reached the top of the rocky crag, something (Someone?) knocked the men down before me as if they had been hit by a great gust of wind. My armor bearer did not waste it: as soon as he crested the hill, he slashed them down right and left, twenty men in all. As this happened, panic spread throughout the camp and the garrison. The men began to flee, and the stampede seemed to make the mountain itself quake.
I turned around, and behind us I finally saw my father and his six hundred men emerge from their cave. But before they ever reached the scene of the battle, it was already half over: there was such confusion in the Philistine garrison that they struck and killed one another. Some of my fellow Israelites were among the Philistines, and they turned upon their fellows. Israelites who had been hiding in the hill country of Ephraim saw and came to join the fight.
In the end, the Philistines fled beyond Beth-aven, and the Lord gave us victory. As I knew very well He would. He had promised He would, and He is not a man, that He should lie!