Good morning! Today’s passage (1 Samuel 12-14) suggests the eclipse of Samuel as judge and prophet, as Saul and his son Jonathan take center stage instead. We also start to see some of the limitations of Saul as a king, particularly his penchant for impulsive actions whose consequences are not well thought through.
Samuel gives what sounds like his departing speech in 1 Samuel 12, seeking to vindicate his actions and uphold a righteous reputation. (Contrary to the text header, which calls this “Samuel’s Farewell Address,” he’ll be around for quite a bit longer.) Samuel’s address is like that of Moses in Deuteronomy—filled with exhortations to righteousness. The prophet announces judgment against the people for choosing a king rather than God, but exhorts them to still be faithful to God and their choice will be okay. It pleases God to have this people, even when they are disobedient. Salvation here rests entirely on God’s will—they are the “Chosen People” for no other reason than that it pleases God to choose them. And therefore, Samuel says, he will continue in faithful service to God’s wishes and God’s people.
Chapters 13 and 14 focus attention on Saul and his son Jonathan in their military adventures. Saul picks a fight with the Philistines, who intimidate Israel when their their overwhelming numbers are drawn up in response. When Samuel doesn’t show up promptly within the length of time that he promised to Saul, the king usurps the role of priest/prophet, offering sacrifices when he’s not a descendent of Levi. Samuel pronounces judgment when he arrives—Saul has acted out of turn, and so God will not keep the promise to ensure the kingdom belongs to Saul’s descendants forever. Samuel leaves while Israel digs in to fight the great army of the Philistines. This looks like a sure loss for Israel—made all the more likely due to the suggestion that the occupied Hebrews were not allowed any blacksmiths or iron by the Philistines.
Jonathan shows himself daring and perhaps a little foolish (chip off the old block) in going to pick a fight with the Philistines. He gets a sign that God will deliver the Philistines into his hand, then his victory over a small group coincides with an earthquake and the Philistines are thrown into disarray. In the clamor, Hebrew sympathizers turned against their Philistine comrades-in-arms and added to the victory of Israel over the Philistines that day. Suddenly Saul’s army of 600 men somehow grows to 10,000! This suggests the fluidity of boundaries between the two cultures and/or reflects the melding of multiple stories.
The episode with the honeycomb is another example of Saul’s limitations as a leader. He makes the soldiers swear to fast all day until the Philistines are beaten. Jonathan hears about it only after he’s broken the oath by eating some delicious honey, and he criticizes his father’s vow. It meant that the plunder of the Philistines wasn’t as great as it might have been otherwise. Furthermore, we hear that the famished troops did not cook the meat of the spoils, eating it with the blood intact. Saul makes an altar (again acting as a priest) and provides for the soldiers to kill/eat their food properly. Saul wants to go further with the pursuit of the Philistines, but God’s silence is a clue that someone has sinned. By lots, they discern that Jonathan is the guilty party. Instead of killing him like he said he would (another broken vow), Saul consents to the people’s demand that Jonathan’s life be spared. The king’s battle victories continue to mount though, as he wins with his armies on all the frontiers of Israel. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is 1 Samuel 15-17. Thanks for reading!