In 1 Samuel 14 we begin to see the struggle within Israel – the struggle for Jonathan, or the struggle for Saul. Jonathan is the one with true faith in Christ – it is by the Son that Jonathan and his armor-bearer succeeds – “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul” (v.7). Is this not the phrase of the faithful Caleb alongside Joshua? Can anyone in the OT succeed in anything except by this Christocentric faith (Hebrews 11)? Do we not see two men who are victorious by faith, rather than by their own might or by mere vengeance (v.6, 24)? Jonathan commands far more trust from the people who follow him with heart and soul; yet Saul commands legalistic obedience – the repeated response to his mandates being “do whatever seems good to you” (v.36, 40). Saul, the one who cannot bring the Israelites out of the hidden tombs and crags, who is attempting to uphold the law which points to Christ (v.33-35) – but failing entirely. Is it not against the purpose of the law if he does not lead the people in faith (Romans 3:31). If his obedience was Christ-focused, he would have retrieved the ark (v.18 perhaps means the ephod as in the ESV footnote, rather than ‘ark’) to perform these sacrifices; if he knew which God he was meant to be worshipping, he would not deprive them of food (v.28-29) – like David who fed his men the bread of presence (Matthew 12:3-4). Like Jonathan who proclaims that Saul is leading Israel to harm (v.29) and instead encourages his men to break the idolatrous and Godless, self-serving oath so that none would die and instead feed on the honey of new creation. How can the Israelites be pulled out of the hidden crags and let alone remain in blindness (c.f. Matthew 6:22)? Jonathan in contrast leads them to be the salt and light of the world that is not hidden (Matthew 5:13-15), full of wisdom and knowledge with livened souls in Spirit and in Christ.
It is this Christless Saul who keeps the Israelites blind and hidden; he is the one who has never built an altar to the LORD before (v.35), and builds one on condition of military victory rather than praise or thanksgiving (c.f. Genesis 8:20; 12:7). The “relationship” therefore is purely restricted to requests for victory (v.41) – whereas, the true victory was achieved by Jonathan as indicated by the LORD’s right hand (v.23).
And this omen, this seed of discord, was implanted as early as chapter 9 when Saul failed and did not persist to find his lost and hidden sheep. Saul’s purpose is to protect his people, is to bring them out of the tombs and into a victorious chant; yet, it is by Jonathan that these things are achieved, that “…likewise, when all the men of Israel who had hidden themselves in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were fleeing, they too followed hard after them in the battle” (v.22). The false king did not yoke himself with the Israelites; he added to their weary and to their burden (c.f. Matthew 11:30), these faint Israelites (v.28, 31) who fed on the raw animals with blood flowing inside them – a result of their faintness, their hunger, their burden, caused solely by the disobedient captain Saul. Like how he blames Samuel in chapter 13, so also he blames the men: “You have dealt treacherously”. What an adamic retort to his selfish Pharisaic oath which caused such treason! That Jonathan shall receive the same punishment as the John (the Baptist) of the gospels, to be bound by an oath made with the devil: an oath which will cause the death of innocent lives but for the pride and pleasure of the oath-maker (c.f. Matthew 14). Though it is Saul’s right to put his son to death upon the breaking of the oath, so also it is the Father’s and the Son’s mutual right to place eternal divine punishment upon our spirit and flesh this very day: yet, by the Trinity’s good pleasure we have the Son propitiating the Father’s wrath by taking our place on the cross. Such is the Christocentric mercy that Saul lacks: his merciless, faithless adherence to the law is repudiated by the men’s acceptance of Jonathan’s work of salvation. ” “Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the LORD lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people ransomed Jonathan, so that he did not die” (v.45). So also our Christ is our ransom, but not on our account of righteousness – but on the account that Jonathan is truly living by faith and does not deserve death; but Saul is the war-like animal fitting to be part of the ravenous wolves of the Benjamin-tribe. Did Saul not live by Jonathan’s understanding of Christ? “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.” (v.6) And indeed did Jonathan and his armor-bearer, two mere men, partake in Christ’s work of salvation – indeed, did the mere baskets of bread and fish multiply to feed thousands and thousands; so also one small mustard seed becoming a great tree (Matthew 13:31-32) as an analogy to the humiliation of Christian men as a shadow of Christ’s pre-incarnate and incarnate, sinless humility. This is the Trinitarian economy. Yet, the numbering of Saul’s growing army, just like the numbering of David’s (1 Chronicles 21:1), is a pretext to the nation without Sabbath, a nation without rest, a warring nation growing in as much pomposity as ego to match the increasing faithlessness of the physical church of Israel, manifested in the tragic first king.