Saul, Jonathan and over 600 of their closest comrades have gathered for war. Jonathan is tired of the waiting. He sneaks over to the enemy and gets the ball rolling.
I’m not sure where Saul’s heart is but he is staying in a pomegranate cave at the time. I have no doubt he was considering tactics of war and what Israel should do to win this one. But Jonathan had given up on the waiting. He was ready to act. He wasn’t foolhardy though. He was actively watching for a sign from the Lord. He was doing ‘on the fly’ fleece laying.
Before we jump in I wanted to look at a specific word that is used several times in conjunction to the Philistine army. It is a “garrison”. When I think of this word I think of a military post with buildings, walls, fortifications and all the works of a permanent placement. I wondered how the “garrison of Philistines went out to the pass of Michmash” (verse 13:23) could happen. Also Jonathan went “over to the Philistine garrison on the other side” (verse 1b). What I found out is that a “garrison” is a group of soldiers and where they take their stand. A fortified military position; a place where one stands. It doesn’t have to be fortified with bricks and mortar to be a garrison. All that needs be present is a force large enough to defend their position or group. That is the kind of garrison Jonathan is sneaking over to. So let’s join him and see what God will do with him there.
It has been two days since Saul joined Jonathan at Gibeah. Two days of waiting. Two days of wondering what the Philistines are up to. During those two days there had been troop movements but none directed at Gibeah. Three companies of the Philistines had left for parts unknown but the rest remained. Jonathan is getting tired of waiting. He knows the Lord has promised to free them from their enemies. He wants to get the ball rolling.
Jonathan joins Saul and Abner, another commander, in the pomegranate cave for the daily battle strategy meeting. Each man is commander over 200 men. That is all that remains of Saul’s first army of 3,000.
“How are the men faring” asks Saul.
“We haven’t lost any more. Those that remain are committed but still warry” replies Abner.
“They grow tired of waiting and so do I” adds Jonathan.
Saul explains; “We will hold the Philistines here. We have the advantage of the high ground and the protection of the caves.”
“But what of the towns the Philistines marched off to?” Jonathan inquires.
“None have reported anything of consequence” Saul responds.
“We can’t just sit here. These uncircumcised dogs have to be driven back to the sea! They have oppressed Israel long enough!”
“Jonathan” barks Saul. “Hold your tongue. We have to be patient. The Lord will provide an opening. We need to wait on His will.”
“As you wish my king” Jonathan says.
The meeting breaks up shortly afterwards. Jonathan is frustrated by his father’s answer. He knows the Lord will provide an opportunity but sometimes He calls for man to take the first step. As he makes his way back to his tent he begins thinking that ‘first step’ and what it might look like.
Jonathan is awakened from a very vivid dream. It was of him walking into the Philistine’s camp. Men fell to the right and left of him as he advanced deeper into their midst. It was truly the hand of the Lord the way they fell before him. He woke up knowing that he had to go check out their camp.
Early in the morning Jonathan approaches his armor bearer, Abishi. “I have a mission I want help with. Will you follow me?”
“I am ever at your side my lord. Lead and I will follow.”
“Good. No one is to know of this for now. We will slip out after first meal.”
Jonathan and Abishi leave the camp at Gibeah. “Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side” (verse 1b). They make their way towards Michmash. They are not going up to the front door but want to be close enough to see what is going on in the garrison. Jonathan chooses a pass that takes them around the side of the Philistine’s camp. It passes between two steep cliffs. As they get closer Jonathan shares his heart with Abishi.
“Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few” (verse 6).
“Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul” (verse 7).
“Behold, we will cross over to the men, and we will show ourselves to them. If they say to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our places, 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 sigh for us” (verses 8-10).
Abishi agreed readily with Jonathan. And they stepped together to a place where they could be seen by the guards.
It only took a moment before they were noticed. “Look, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden themselves” (verse 11b) laughed the first guard who spotted them.
“Let’s have some fun” said his counterpart. “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing” (verse 12b).
Jonathan and Abishi look at one another. It is all they can do to contain their excitement! The Lord is about to do something miraculous and they are going to be part of it.
“Come up after me, for the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel” (verse 12c) Jonathan quietly says to Abishi.
Instead of continuing on around the pass Jonathan starts climbing the cliff face with Abishi right behind him.
As the two Hebrews climb the cliff face the Philistine guards call over some of their fellow soldiers. “Look at these two Hebrew dogs. They even climb like dogs” laughs one of the soldiers as they watch Jonathan and Abishi.
“Is our ‘surprise’ ready for them” asks one guard.
“We will take them as soon as they make it to the top” sneers another.
As Jonathan’s hands clear the top of the cliff arms reach out to take hold of him. His right arm evades the hands and comes back at them with a sword in it. He propels himself the last few feet up the cliff while holding onto one of the Philistines who reached out to capture him. As his feet find purchase at the top he spins the guard, tears his arm out of his grasp, runs him through and pushes hi over the top of Abishi’s head. Abishi quickly scrambles the last few feet to the top himself and joins Jonathan in battle.
Within moments twenty Philistine soldiers lay dead or dying by the hand of Jonathan and Abishi. All those who had gathered with intent to inflict disgrace on Jonathan found themselves recipients of blows from his sword.
This small skirmish didn’t go unnoticed nor did the surprises stop there. Panic swept through the camp like fire through a parched field. The Lord even caused the earth to quake to add to the distress of the Philistines. They were falling upon one another in fear!
While Jonathan and Abishi had been making their way to and into the Philistine camp things at Gibeah were moving along as usual. The two camps were close enough that larger scale activity could be spotted.
When Jonathan and Abishi made their first strike in the Philistines camp it didn’t make a stir in Israel’s camp but the fervor that erupted right afterwards did. The watchmen came running to Saul and Abner when they saw all the action.
“The Philistines my lord, are running here and there! There isn’t any order to their movements.”
Saul knew something must have happened. He suspected someone had gone over there and started something and he was pretty sure he knew who that someone was. “Count and see who has gone from us” (verse 17a) Saul calls out.
Immediately people began assembling in ranks to be counted. It took no time at all to notice the absence of Jonathan and Abishi. Jonathan should have been one of the ones performing the count.
Saul needed guidance. He needed to know what the Lord would have him do. “Bring the Ark of God here” he ordered.
Ahijah and the other priests went to get the Ark of God. As they were readying to pick it up two more watchmen came running to tell Saul of further developments.
“The Philistines are in chaos! The Israelites who had gone over to them earlier are fleeing back towards us. There appears to be terror in the camp. Philistines are cutting down one another as if they don’t recognize their own comrades!”
Saul commanded the priest, “’Withdraw your hand’ (verse 19b). It is clear that the Lord is in this and He calls us to join His work.”
Saul called out for his troops to muster immediately. As Saul’s army rushes forward to meet the Philistines in battle and join in the Lord’s work the Israelites who were running from the Philistine camp joined on their side. Even more astounding is that those who had been hiding in the hills in caves and holes joined in too. The Lord gave them courage as they pursued their enemy beyond Beth-aven.
(to be continued)
Jonathan knew the promises of the Lord; that He had promised to save them through Saul. He wanted to be part of what the Lord would do. He rushed ahead but also asked the Lord to give him a sign. “If they tell us to come up to them then the Lord has given them into our hands.” He laid out a ‘fleece’ to know the Lord’s direction. I wonder what he would have done if the Lord hadn’t answered in the positive for him. He told his armor bearer that they would stand still while the Philistines came. I wonder if they would have had to dispatch those who came only. Jonathan had faith that God would meet him where he was.
I try to be the cautious one. I TRY to wait on the Lord to make the first move but I often fail in that. I can see myself following Jonathan’s example much easier than I can following Gideon’s. Both asked for a sign but one moved immediately on the one he posed while the other needed a ‘second opinion’. I pray I have the faith of either.
Father God, I need YOUR help to know when I should wait and when I should take the first step. I know I don’t get it right on my own. THANK YOU for when You rescue me from my own mistakes, both for waiting too long and for rushing ahead. I trust You with my life. With making it into something pleasing in Your sight. I need ALL the direction I can get!