April 12, 2008

1 Sam 13-14: Those crazy kids

(Today's passage covers some battles against the Philistines, featuring the exploits of Saul's son, Jonathan.)

Now that Saul has had some initial military success, he decides to tackle the remaining problem, the Philistines camped at Michmash. (Don't you love those Bible names?) After a preliminary victory in 1 Sam. 13, in which it appears Saul's son, Jonathan, did most of the fighting, Saul is ready to take the war path again. Never mind that the Philistines have 30,000 chariots, 6,000 cavalry, and countless infantry units. (1 Sam. 13:5) Never mind that Saul only has 600 men with him (1 Sam. 13:15, 14:2) and that only he and Jonathan have swords, leaving the rest of his men to wield any pointed bit of metal they have lying around. (1 Sam. 13:19-22) The point is that Saul is ready for battle, and no fluke of circumstance is going to stop him.

Saul's son seems to be just as hot-headed as his father. In the dead of night, he and his armour-bearer sneak out of the Israelite camp, through a narrow pass between two cliffs, and towards the Philistines. And -- here's the important part -- they decide to take on the entire massed Philistine horde by themselves. Jonathan puts his trust in God, saying that if the Philistines shout, "come up to us," it's a sign that God has delivered them all into his hands and they should go in swinging. The Philistines do, and Jonathan does. He kills 20 men in the first assault, enough to put the Philistines into a panic in which they start killing one another. (1 Sam. 14:1-15)

At this point, Saul realizes something is amiss. A split-second later, he realizes that his son is missing. No time to waste, he summons the ark of God, repeals his order to summon the ark of God, and polishes off the rest of the Philistines. (1 Sam. 14:16-23)

But we're not done with Jonathan just yet. He saves Israel, true, but he nearly dooms them as well. Because when he was on his Philistine-slaying rampage, Saul ordered the army to fast all day in order to appease God and gain the victory. Jonathan comes back, hungry, and eats some honey. The men try to stop him, but being ravenous with hunger themselves, are easily swayed by Jonathan's argument, "the battle would have gone even better if you'd been allowed to eat." This is all the convincing the men need to go out, slaughter the captured Philistine animals, and eat them raw, with the blood still in the bodies (a cardinal sin, against even the Noahide laws). (1 Sam. 14:24-32)

You'd think it would be the blood-eating that's the problem, but God blames Jonathan (whether for eating they honey or inciting the men to eat blood is unclear). Jonathan stands up bravely, in the manner of young heroes everywhere, and says, "I'm ready to die." Saul is ready to kill him, too, but the men rally to Jonathan's aid and convince Saul not to do it. (1 Sam. 14:33-45)

In the end, then, everything works out. The Philistines are dead, the men eventually get to eat, and Jonathan (the ever-popular young favourite) doesn't die. What more could you ask for from this latest instalment of the Bible action movie series?

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