Chapter 14 starts with Saul’s son Jonathan acting on his own without his father’s consent. In chapter 13 we saw Saul’s army walking away, discouraged, in spite of Saul’s monumental victory at Jabesh-Gilead. In less than a week, Saul has gone from hero to hapless king hemorrhaging troops, and now his son is taking it upon himself to take on the Philistines camped just outside Saul’s hometown.
Saul has recruited what’s left of Eli’s line, the presumably young High Priest (not called High Priest here, but the ephod is rather suggestive) Ahijah, nephew to Ichabod. 14:6 paints an interesting portrait of Jonathan. We certainly haven’t seen this kind of talk from Saul. Perhaps the narrator is hinting that there is a promising heir to Saul, if only he was a more obedient king.
Compare the armour-bearer of Jonathan with Saul’s armour-bearer in chapter 31. How on earth do these two guys take out 20 Philistines? These two guys killing 20 sends the Philistines into a panic. Amazing how often panic becomes the means for Israel to score a key victory (e.g. Judges 7).
Saul’s scouts see the panic, and report it. Saul’s response is to bring the Ark, presumably still at Kiriath-Jearim (won’t this cause a costly delay in troop movements?). But then he changes his mind, deciding he must act immediately. Somehow that same day, word gets out into Ephraim, and the Ephraimites make it to the battle to join Saul.
The oath is a weird one, especially since Jonathan is not present for it. Can he really be held to an oath he never swore? He likely would have obeyed had he known. There are some definite resonances between this oath and the oath of Jephthah in Judges 11. Saul tries to follow through on the oath, saying “As surely as the LORD who rescues Israel lives, even if the guilt lies with my son Jonathan, he must die.” and then demanding his own son’s death when his words turn out to be ironically condemning. But the Israelites plead for him, because Jonathan is to be credited with the victory. Jonathan, not Saul is the hero.
Then we read that Saul does become a hero with victories over the Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites as well the Philistines and the Amalekites (is this the same victory we read about in chapter 15)?
Then we get a run down of Saul’s family. Is this to show that time has passed between the events of 14 & 15? Or is this a sign of transitioning the story away from Saul towards David? After 14 we don’t see much good news surrounding Saul, and his favour among the people dissipates.
You know who is notably absent from this chapter? Samuel. He factors into 13 a little bit, and in 15-16 he takes a fairly central role. Saul has looked to Ahijah for spiritual guidance. Saul goes to priest, not prophet. In David we see a king who connects with the prophet, similarly in Hezekiah, we see a king who responds to the prophet’s call, and succeeds as a result.
We don’t see much from Ishvi and Malki-Shua. But Jonathan will factor into the story in significant ways, as will Michal.