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Saul Disobeys the Lord

13 Saul was a young man[a] when he became king, and he ruled Israel for two years. Then[b] he chose 3,000 men from Israel to be full-time soldiers and sent everyone else[c] home. Two thousand of these troops stayed with him in the hills around Michmash and Bethel. The other 1,000 were stationed with Jonathan[d] at Gibeah[e] in the territory of Benjamin.

Jonathan led an attack on the Philistine army camp at Geba.[f] The Philistine camp was destroyed, but[g] the other Philistines heard what had happened. Then Saul told his messengers, “Go to every village in the country. Give a signal with the trumpet, and when the people come together, tell them what has happened.”

The messengers then said to the people of Israel, “Saul has destroyed the Philistine army camp at Geba.[h] Now the Philistines really hate Israel, so every town and village must send men to join Saul's army at Gilgal.”

The Philistines called their army together to fight Israel. They had 3,000[i] chariots, 6,000 cavalry, and as many foot soldiers as there are grains of sand on the beach. They went to Michmash and set up camp there east of Beth-Aven.[j]

The Israelite army realized that they were outnumbered and were going to lose the battle. Some of the Israelite men hid in caves or in clumps of bushes,[k] and some ran to places where they could hide among large rocks. Others hid in tombs[l] or in deep dry pits. Still others[m] went to Gad and Gilead on the other side of the Jordan River.

Saul stayed at Gilgal. His soldiers were shaking with fear, (A) and they were starting to run off and leave him. Saul waited there seven days, just as Samuel had ordered him to do,[n] but Samuel did not come. Finally, Saul commanded, “Bring me some animals, so we can offer sacrifices to please the Lord and ask for his help.”

Saul killed one of the animals, 10 and just as he placed it on the altar, Samuel arrived. Saul went out to welcome him.

11 “What have you done?” Samuel asked.

Saul answered, “My soldiers were leaving in all directions, and you didn't come when you were supposed to. The Philistines were gathering at Michmash, 12 and I was worried that they would attack me here at Gilgal. I hadn't offered a sacrifice to ask for the Lord's help, so I forced myself to offer a sacrifice on the altar fire.”

13 “That was stupid!” Samuel said. “You didn't obey the Lord your God. If you had obeyed him, someone from your family would always have been king of Israel. 14 (B) But no, you disobeyed, and so the Lord won't choose anyone else from your family to be king. In fact, he has already chosen the one he wants to be the next leader of his people.” 15 Then Samuel left Gilgal.

Part of Saul's army had not deserted him, and he led them to Gibeah in Benjamin to join his other troops. Then he counted them[o] and found that he still had 600 men. 16 Saul, Jonathan, and their army set up camp at Geba in Benjamin.

Jonathan Attacks the Philistines

The Philistine army was camped at Michmash. 17 Each day they sent out patrols to attack and rob villages and then destroy them. One patrol would go north along the road to Ophrah in the region of Shual. 18 Another patrol would go west along the road to Beth-Horon. A third patrol would go east toward the desert on the road to the ridge that overlooks Zeboim Valley.

19 The Philistines would not allow any Israelites to learn how to make iron tools. “If we allowed that,” they said, “those worthless Israelites would make swords and spears.”

20-21 Whenever the Israelites wanted to get an iron point put on a cattle prod,[p] they had to go to the Philistines. Even if they wanted to sharpen plow-blades, picks, axes, sickles,[q] and pitchforks[r] they still had to go to them. And the Philistines charged high prices. 22 So, whenever the Israelite soldiers had to go into battle, none of them had a sword or a spear except Saul and his son Jonathan.

23 The Philistines moved their camp to the pass at Michmash, 14 1-3 and Saul was in Geba[s] with his 600 men. Saul's own tent was set up under a fruit tree[t] by the threshing place[u] at the edge of town. Ahijah was serving as priest, and one of his jobs was to get answers from the Lord for Saul. Ahijah's father was Ahitub, and his father's brother was Ichabod. Ahijah's grandfather was Phinehas, and his great-grandfather Eli had been the Lord's priest at Shiloh.

One day, Jonathan told the soldier who carried his weapons that he wanted to attack the Philistine camp on the other side of the valley. So they slipped out of the Israelite camp without anyone knowing it. Jonathan didn't even tell his father he was leaving.

4-5 Jonathan decided to get to the Philistine camp by going through the pass that led between Shiny Cliff and Michmash to the north and Thornbush Cliff[v] and Geba to the south.

Jonathan and the soldier who carried his weapons talked as they went toward the Philistine camp. “It's just the two of us against all those godless men,” Jonathan said. “But the Lord can help a few soldiers win a battle just as easily as he can help a whole army. Maybe the Lord will help us win this battle.”

“Do whatever you want,” the soldier answered. “I'll be right there with you.”

“This is what we will do,” Jonathan said. “We will go across and let them see us. If they agree to come down the hill and fight where we are, then we won't climb up to their camp. 10 But we will go if they tell us to come up the hill and fight. That will mean the Lord is going to help us win.”

11-12 Jonathan and the soldier stood at the bottom of the hill where the Philistines could see them. The Philistines said, “Look! Those worthless Israelites have crawled out of the holes where they've been hiding.” Then they yelled down to Jonathan and the soldier, “Come up here, and we will teach you a thing or two!”

Jonathan turned to the soldier and said, “Follow me! The Lord is going to let us win.”

13 Jonathan crawled up the hillside with the soldier right behind him. When they got to the top, Jonathan killed the Philistines who attacked from the front, and the soldier killed those who attacked from behind.[w] 14 Before they had gone 30 meters,[x] they had killed about 20 Philistines.

15 The whole Philistine army panicked—those in camp, those on guard duty, those in the fields, and those on raiding patrols. All of them were afraid and confused. Then God sent an earthquake, and the ground began to tremble.[y]

Israel Defeats the Philistines

16 Saul's lookouts at Geba[z] saw that the Philistine army was running in every direction, like melted wax. 17 Saul told his officers, “Call the roll and find out who left our camp.” When they had finished, they found out that Jonathan and the soldier who carried his weapons were missing.

18 At that time, Ahijah was serving as priest for the army of Israel, and Saul told him, “Come over here! Let's ask God what we should do.”[aa] 19 Just as Saul finished saying this, he could see that the Philistine army camp was getting more and more confused, and he said, “Ahijah, never mind!”

20 Saul quickly called his army together, then led them to the Philistine camp. By this time the Philistines were so confused that they were killing each other.

21 There were also some hired soldiers[ab] in the Philistine camp, who now switched to Israel's side and fought for Saul and Jonathan.

22 Many Israelites had been hiding in the hill country of Ephraim. And when they heard that the Philistines were running away, they came out of hiding and joined in chasing the Philistines.

23-24 So the Lord helped Israel win the battle that day.

Saul's Curse on Anyone Who Eats

Saul had earlier told his soldiers, “I want to get even with those Philistines by sunset. If any of you eat before then, you will be under a curse!” So he made them swear not to eat.

By the time the fighting moved past Beth-Aven,[ac] the Israelite troops were weak from hunger. 25-26 The army and the people who lived nearby had gone into a forest, and they came to a place where honey was dripping on the ground.[ad] But no one ate any of it, because they were afraid of being put under the curse.

27 Jonathan did not know about Saul's warning to the soldiers. So he dipped the end of his walking stick in the honey and ate some with his fingers. He felt stronger and more alert. 28 Then a soldier told him, “Your father swore that anyone who ate food today would be put under a curse, and we agreed not to eat. That's why we're so weak.”

29 Jonathan said, “My father has caused you a lot of trouble. Look at me! I ate only a little of this honey, but already I feel strong and alert. 30 I wish you had eaten some of the food the Philistines left behind. We would have been able to kill a lot more of them.”

31 By evening the Israelite army was exhausted from killing Philistines all the way from Michmash to Aijalon.[ae] 32 They grabbed the food they had captured from the Philistines and started eating. They even killed sheep and cows and calves right on the spot and ate the meat without draining the blood.[af] 33 (C) Someone told Saul, “Look! The army is disobeying the Lord by eating meat before the blood drains out.”

“You're right,” Saul answered. “They are being unfaithful to the Lord! Hurry! Roll a big rock over here.[ag] 34 Then tell everyone in camp to bring their cattle and lambs to me. They can kill the animals on this rock,[ah] then eat the meat. That way no one will disobey the Lord by eating meat with blood still in it.”

That night the soldiers brought their cattle over to the big rock and killed them there. 35 It was the first altar Saul had built for offering sacrifices to the Lord.[ai]

The Army Rescues Jonathan

36 Saul said, “Let's attack the Philistines again while it's still dark. We can fight them all night. Let's kill them and take everything they own!”

The people answered, “We will do whatever you want.”

“Wait!” Ahijah the priest said. “Let's ask God what we should do.”

37 Saul asked God, “Should I attack the Philistines? Will you help us win?”

This time God did not answer. 38 Saul called his army officers together and said, “We have to find out what sin has kept God from answering. 39 I swear by the living Lord that whoever sinned must die, even if it turns out to be my own son Jonathan.”

No one said a word.

40 Saul told his army, “You stand on that side of the priest, and Jonathan and I will stand on the other side.”

Everyone agreed.

41 (D) Then Saul prayed, “Our Lord, God of Israel, why haven't you answered me today? Please show us who sinned. Was it my son Jonathan and I, or was it your people Israel?”[aj]

The answer came back that Jonathan or Saul had sinned, not the army. 42 Saul told Ahijah, “Now ask the Lord to decide between Jonathan and me.”

The answer came back that Jonathan had sinned. 43 “Jonathan,” Saul exclaimed, “tell me what you did!”

“I dipped the end of my walking stick in some honey and ate a little. Now you say I have to die!”

44 “Yes, Jonathan. I swear to God that you must die.”

45 “No!” the soldiers shouted. “God helped Jonathan win the battle for us. We won't let you kill him. We swear to the Lord that we won't let you kill him or even lay a hand on him!” So the army kept Saul from killing Jonathan.

46 Saul stopped hunting down the Philistines, and they went home.

Saul Fights His Enemies

47-48 When Saul became king, the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Edomites, the kings of Zobah, the Philistines, and the Amalekites had all been robbing the Israelites. Saul fought back against these enemies and stopped them from robbing Israel. He was a brave commander and always won his battles.[ak]

Saul's Family

49-51 Saul's wife was Ahinoam, the daughter of Ahimaaz. They had three sons: Jonathan, Ishvi,[al] and Malchishua. They also had two daughters: The older one was Merab, and the younger one was Michal.

Abner, Saul's cousin, was the commander of the army. Saul's father Kish and Abner's father Ner were sons of Abiel.

War with the Philistines

52 Saul was at war with the Philistines for as long as he lived. Whenever he found a good warrior or a brave man, Saul made him join his army.


  1. 13.1 a young man: One possible meaning for the difficult Hebrew text; several manuscripts of one ancient translation have “thirty years old.”
  2. 13.1,2 for … Then: One possible meaning for the difficult Hebrew text.
  3. 13.2 everyone else: People who were not full-time soldiers, but fought together with the army when the nation was in danger.
  4. 13.2 Jonathan: Saul's son (see verse 16).
  5. 13.2 Michmash … Bethel … Gibeah: These three towns form a triangle, with Bethel to the north.
  6. 13.3 Geba: Geba was between Gibeah and Michmash.
  7. 13.3 led an attack … destroyed, but: Or “killed the Philistine military governor who lived at Geba, and.”
  8. 13.4 destroyed … Geba: Or “killed the Philistine military governor who lived at Geba.”
  9. 13.5 3,000: Some ancient translations; Hebrew “30,000.”
  10. 13.5 Beth-Aven: This Beth-Aven was probably located about one and a half kilometers southwest of Michmash, between Michmash and Geba.
  11. 13.6 in … bushes: Or “in cracks in the rocks.”
  12. 13.6 tombs: The Hebrew word may mean a room cut into solid rock and used as a burial place, or it may mean a cellar.
  13. 13.7 Still others: This translates a Hebrew word which may be used of wandering groups of people who sometimes became outlaws or hired soldiers (see also 14.21).
  14. 13.8 Samuel … to do: See 10.8.
  15. 13.15 Then Samuel … counted them: Two ancient translations; Hebrew “Then Samuel left Gilgal and went to Gibeah in Benjamin. Saul counted his army.”
  16. 13.20,21 cattle prod: A pole used to poke cattle and make them move.
  17. 13.20,21 sickles: One ancient translation; Hebrew “plow-blades.”
  18. 13.20,21 pitchforks: One possible meaning for the difficult Hebrew text.
  19. 14.1-3 Geba: Or “Gibeah.” In 13.16 and 14.4,5 the name “Geba” is used, while 14.1-3,16 have “Gibeah.” In ancient Hebrew writing there is only one letter different between the two words.
  20. 14.1-3 fruit tree: Hebrew “pomegranate tree.” A pomegranate is a bright red fruit that looks like an apple.
  21. 14.1-3 threshing place: Or “in Migron.”
  22. 14.4,5 Shiny Cliff … Thornbush Cliff: Or “Bozez Cliff … Seneh Cliff.”
  23. 14.13 Jonathan killed … from behind: Or “Jonathan attacked the Philistines with his sword, and the soldier killed those who fell to the ground wounded.”
  24. 14.14 30 meters: One possible meaning for the difficult Hebrew text.
  25. 14.15 Then … tremble: Or “Then the ground began to tremble, and everyone was in a terrible panic.” Or “Then the ground began to tremble, and God made them all panic.”
  26. 14.16 Geba: See the note at 14.1-3.
  27. 14.18 At that time … should do: One ancient translation; Hebrew “Saul told Ahijah, ‘Bring the sacred chest,’ because at that time it was with the army of Israel.”
  28. 14.21 hired soldiers: See the note at 13.7.
  29. 14.23,24 Beth-Aven: See the note at 13.5.
  30. 14.25,26 The army … ground: One possible meaning for the difficult Hebrew text.
  31. 14.31 Aijalon: About 30 kilometers west of Michmash.
  32. 14.32 blood: The Israelites were supposed to drain the blood from a butchered animal before the meat was cooked and eaten (see Genesis 9.4; Leviticus 17.11; Deuteronomy 12.23).
  33. 14.33 over here: One ancient translation; Hebrew “today.”
  34. 14.34 kill … rock: That is, up off the ground so the blood could drain out.
  35. 14.35 offering sacrifices to the Lord: Even when animals were killed for food, it was often done as a sacrifice to the Lord.
  36. 14.41 why … Israel: One ancient translation; Hebrew “give me an answer.”
  37. 14.47,48 won his battles: One ancient translation; Hebrew “hurt them.”
  38. 14.49-51 Ishvi: Also known as Eshbaal (see 1 Chronicles 8.33; 9.39) and Ishbosheth (see 2 Samuel 2.8-13; 3.8-15; 4.5-12).

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