Philistine Oppression

After the victory over the Ammonites, Saul realized that he could no longer return to his former existence. He selected a standing army of three thousand men. His residence he divided between Michmash and Beth-El. A garrison of one thousand men he stationed in Gibeah, under the leadership of his son Jonathan.

For some time, the Philistines had been extending their rule over large parts of Israel. The Jews were paying a yearly tax to the Philistines, who were represented in Israel by a governor. This representative of the Philistine government did not allow the Jews to possess any armaments, for fear of a rebellion. Even farm implements that had to be sharpened had to be taken to the Philistine over Lords who, for a price, used to sharpen them. Not a sword was to be found in all Israel. Only Saul and his son Jonathan, possessed this priceless weapon. Saul was determined to expel the Philistines from the Hebrew territory.

Jonathan's Victory

Among the first who achieved a success in this warfare was Jonathan, who defeated the enemy's garrison at Geba. When word reached the Philistines that their governor had been killed by Jonathan, they mobilized their armies and marched to Michmash, where the Jews had encamped. Included among their forces were thirty thousand chariots and six thousand cavalry men.

Saul's Disobedience

The Jews gathered at Gilgal. "When they saw the battle array of the enemy, many fled to the other side of the Jordan.

Others hid in caves and in forests out of fear of the Philistines. Many other men in the meantime were deserting the army, so that Saul was left with only six hundred men.

Realizing his great responsibility, Saul remained to wage war against the Philistines with his six hundred men. His brave son Jonathan also remained with him. The Prophet Samuel ordered Saul to wait for him before taking any action. For seven days Saul expected the arrival of the prophet in vain. At last he grew impatient; the people, anxious and terrified, began to withdraw from him, and the Philistines were pressing hard for a battle. He could no longer delay with safety; and reluctantly assuming the office of priest, he presented the burnt and the peace offerings himself. While these ceremonies were being performed, Samuel appeared. He listened to Saul's explanation, but reproved him sternly for what he pronounced a violation of G‑d's ordinances, and declared that the kingdom which had been granted to him would, owing to his disobedience, be taken from him; for "The L-rd has selected for Himself a man after His own heart, and the L-rd has appointed him to be ruler over His people, because thou hast not kept that which the L-rd commanded thee." Saul listened to this severe announcement with unmurmuring resignation. He offered no words of reply. He stood with his son Jonathan on the heights of Gibeah, surrounded by a little band of six hundred men; the Ark of the L-rd had been brought into the camp and was in the care of Ahiah, a grandchild of Eli.

Jonathan's Bravery

Jonathan was aware of the discouragement that was rife everywhere. But from past history he knew that the difference in the sizes of the two armies did not necessarily mean a defeat for the Jews. A miracle from G‑d could save them in this uneven struggle. Jonathan decided on a bold step. Imparting his secret intention to his adjutant, Jonathan and his adjutant left the camp without anyone's knowledge. They made their way across a rocky pass in the mountains towards the camp of the enemy. They had agreed upon a sign to decide their action; if the enemy patrol called them to halt, they would halt. However, should the patrol tell them to approach and identify themselves, they would attack the patrol and destroy it.

As soon as the patrol spotted Jonathan and his adjutant, they ordered them to approach. Jonathan attacked, and the patrol of twenty men was completely annihilated. This bold act struck terror into the hearts of the Philistines, who suddenly trembled at the prospect of meeting the Jews on the battlefield. Overcome by this unnatural fear, they attacked each other blindly, throwing their camp into pandemonium.

The Victory

From the camp at Gibeah, Saul beheld the confusion and heard the tumult.

He suspected that some of his men had secretly attacked the heathen hosts. He counted over his army, and finding that Jonathan and his armor-bearer were missing, he at once hastened to their rescue with his band of six hundred soldiers. At this point he was joined by some of the deserters, who now poured forth in great numbers from their rocky caverns to take part in the war of deliverance. The Philistines were beaten back from Michmash and hotly chased to Beth-Aven and Aialon, the pursuit lasting from morning till nightfall.

Saul had vowed at the beginning of the battle that no man should taste food ere the Philistines were completely scattered and their army destroyed. Jonathan, however, was absent when this vow was made, and as the youth, faint and exhausted with the exertions of the day, was passing through a wood, he dipped his staff into the wild honey that was overflowing on the ground, and refreshed himself.

Jonathan Is Saved

The victory over the Philistines that day was great but not complete. Saul, not satisfied, wanted to destroy the Philistine army completely. He prayed to G‑d, inquiring whether he should continue the battle and whether he would be successful. No answer came. Saul understood that some one must have sinned by breaking the fast he had announced. Calling together the chiefs of the army, he warned that the culprit would suffer the consequences. Then he cast lots, and Jonathan was found guilty. Saul was ready to have his beloved son executed, but here the Jews intervened. Remembering the great victory that had been initiated by the king's son, they swore that they would not let Jonathan die. Thus, Jonathan's life was saved.