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Saul, part 7

Jonathan's Capture of The Philistines' Garrison, and Rout of the Philistine Host.

1 Samuel 14

We have hitherto been led on to a rather minute examination of the history of Saul; and yet the explanation is but meagre compared with what the inspired record contains; and it must appear to some, at least, rather obscure, and perhaps arbitrary, for want of confirming passages of Scripture and explanatory observations. To enter as minutely into the whole of the history of the first three kings would require several volumes; we must therefore limit ourselves, except in special cases, to a more general view of the subject.

In this chapter we have an account of a remarkable overthrow of the Philistines by altogether inadequate means.

Saul, with his six hundred unarmed men, tarried in the uttermost parts of Gibeah under a pomegranate-tree, which was in Migron, the garrison or camp of the Philistines having come out to the passage of Michmash. The shadow of this tree is a very suitable place for Saul to tarry under; for pomegranates signify the scientifics of good and truth, which are doctrinals from the Word in the memory, which is in the external or natural man. A passage in Isaiah, in reference to the Assyrians, reflects its light upon this, to show that it has a spiritual meaning: "He is come to Aiath, he is passed to Migron; at Mich-mash he has laid up his carriages: they are gone over the passage: they have taken up their lodgings at Geba; Ramah is afraid; Gibeah of Saul is fled" (1 Sam 10:28, 29). And as if to connect, or rather identify, it with the case before us, the next chapter begins, "And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots."

But although Saul remained inactive at Migron, there was one who was bent upon a great enterprise, by which he hoped to strike terror into the hearts of the Philistines, and to restore confidence to Israel. Jonathan, with his armour-bearer, secretly left his father and the people who were with him, for the purpose of surprising the camp of the Philistines, in the hope of spreading consternation among the enemy and overcoming them. "It may be," he said, "that the Lord will work for us: for there is no restrai-nt to the Lord to save by many or by few." The Lord had shown His people that He chose to work at times, and these times of great emergency, by few rather than by many; not only to teach them that He it is who gives the victory, but that the success of the instruments He employs depends more on their quality than their numbers. One genuine or real truth may have more power than many apparent truths. Indeed, apparent truth is that over and by which error exercises power; and real truth is that by which its power is broken. This was representatively exemplified on the present occasion by Jonathan's defeat of the army, and by David's subsequent victory over the champion of the Philistines.

Jonathan's bold plan, which he carried out with such complete success, was to pass over to the garrison of the Philistines, and attack them single-handed, at least with the assistance of his armour-bearer. Between the passages by which he sought to go over there was a sharp rock on the one side and a sharp rock on the other side; and the name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh. The forefront of the one was situate northward over against Mich-mash, and the other southward over against Gibeah. The Philistines had no doubt selected Michmash as a secure position, and the passes which lay between it and Gibeah are minutely described to show that entrance into the place by that way was beset with difficulties. The names of the two rocks, like some other Hebrew names, are difficult of exact ascertainment. According to the best authorities, Bozez means to shine or gleam; and Seneh seems to mean a thorn. Dr. Robinson believes he identified these two rocks at the entrance to this pass. But there are difficulties to be encountered in the spiritual warfare which these rocky passes represented; falsities which beset our path on the right hand and on the left, southward and northward, are falsities opposed to charity and falsities opposed to faith. Yet those who are in charity and in the true faith, as formed from the genuine truths of the Word, and have trust in the Lord, to whom there is no restraint to save by many truths or by few, will confidently attack evil and error even in their stronghold, though that may be in their own hearts and understandings. For the spiritual warfare is internal—a war of the flesh against the spirit, and of the spirit against the flesh. The flesh is another name for man's selfhood, in which dwells no good thing. But the selfhood consists of two distinct parts: there is a voluntary and an intellectual part, or a voluntary and an intellectual selfhood, and, if we may use the language of Scripture in its opposite sense, these two make one flesh. But the new nature, which is meant by spirit, also consists of two parts, the voluntary and the intellectual, and these two make one spirit, or one spiritual man. These two are representatively described as standing in various relations to each other, according to the nature of the connection or union existing between them, or the use in which they are unitedly engaged. They may be as husband and wife, brother and sister, master and servant, warrior and armour-bearer. Jonathan and the young man that bore his arms are to each other as will and understanding, and therefore as the internal and the external. Jonathan says to the young man, "Let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised;" and the youth answers, "Do all that is in your heart: turn you; behold, I am with you according to your heart." There is perfect accord, then, between the heart and the mind, between the inner and the outer man.

In proceeding on their perilous enterprise Jonathan instructed the young man how they were to act. "We will pass over to these men, and we will discover ourselves to them. If they say thus to us, Tarry till we come to you; then we will stand still in our place, and will not go up to them. But if they say thus, Come up to us; then we will go up: for the Lord has delivered them into our hand." The difference between going up to the enemy and waiting for the enemy to come down is as great in the spiritual warfare as it is in the natural. For the good and true to remain passive while the evil and the false are active is a certain sign of defeat: as the opposite conditions are as certain a sign of success. But the conditions in this case were to be made by the enemy himself. The alternative of the Philistine guard was to be taken as an indication of their confidence or fear. The result answered Jonathan's expectations, and showed his sagacity in judging. When he and his companion discovered themselves to the garrison, the Philistines said, "Behold, the Hebrews come out of the holes where they had hid themselves." Their invitation to Jonathan to come up clearly shows that they feared to come down to attack the assailants whom their cowardice had multiplied into a host. In answer to their call Jonathan climbed up upon his hands and upon his feet, and his armour-bearer after him. This mode of progression shows the steepness of the ascent; but it teaches another and higher lesson: for the hands and the feet are symbols of power, both of the spiritual and of the natural mind; and the power of these combined Overcomes great obstacles, and rises to the height of great achievements. So the Philistines "fell before Jonathan; and his armour-bearer slew after him. And the first slaughter was about twenty men, within as it were an half-acre of land, which a yoke of oxen might plow." In the spiritual sense numbers are expressive of quality. In relation to the good, twenty signifies a holy state resulting from the remains of goodness and truth stored up in the interior of the mind; and in relation to the evil, it means an unholy state resulting from the destruction of remains. Remains are states formed in the mind in early life; and these are either confirmed or rejected when the young arrive at a state of rationality, which they do about their twentieth year. But remains are destroyed, not only by unbelief, but by belief that covers a life of selfish and worldly-mindedness—by practical faith alone, whether the theoretical faith be true or false. Those who are in this state cannot stand in the judgement, whether that judgement be at the end of life or during its continuance; for judgement takes place whenever the truth is brought to bear upon the state of the inner life. Jonathan's first slaughter spiritually means, not first in time, but first in importance, the beginning, of which all that follows is the sequence; just as this first slaughter created that panic in the host, which led first to their mutual destruction, and then to their final overthrow by the Israelites. This state is further indicated by the twenty men having fallen within as it were an half-acre of land, which a yoke of oxen might plough. The land is a symbol of the mind itself, and half an acre is expressive of its quality. Generally, the half of a number has the same meaning as double the number; one reason, in the opposite sense, being, that those who divide goodness and truth unite evil and falsity. Those who practically divide faith and charity practically unite unbelief and uncharitableness. But the extent of the land is more specially described by its being what a yoke of oxen could plough. This mode of measurement, common in ancient times, has a spiritual meaning in the inspired writings; and that meaning arises from the symbolic meaning of oxen and a yoke. Oxen are types of the natural affections, the control of which is meant by their being brought under and accustomed to the yoke. Being under the yoke is a very common figure in Scripture for being under subjection either to a friendly or a hostile power. Of the Lord it is prophetically said, "You have broken the yoke of his burden" (Isa 9:4). And when He did come, He spoke of the blessed change in the condition of His redeemed, when He said, "Come to Me, all you that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest to your souls" (Matt 11:28, 29). The idea, it is true, in the case before us, is not that of bearing the yoke, but of the number of oxen yoked together in ploughing the land, and the portion of land a yoke was able to plough in a day; yet the idea of the yoke lies at the foundation of its meaning. We find a yoke of oxen also spoken of both in a good and in a bad sense in the Word. Elisha, the son of Shaphat was ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he with the twelfth, when Elijah cast his mantle upon him (1 Kings 19:19), as a sign, which he understood and obeyed, that he was to assume the prophetic office, and labour in a nobler field of usefulness, by the exercise of higher than natural affections. On the other hand, our Lord, in a parable in which He mentions the excuses of some who were bidden to a supper, speaks of one who said, "I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray you have me excused" (Luke 14:19); where the five yoke of oxen signify all those natural affections which lead away from heaven. Those whom Jonathan slaughtered within half an acre, a yoke, represented those who divide charity and faith, or good and truth, and as a consequence unite evil and falsity, and allow their natural affections to lead them away from heaven; and who are deep in guilt, because they have voluntarily put their neck under the yoke of sin. Abstractly considered, they represent the leading principles of faith alone, the proved fallaciousness of which shows the whole system, which seemed harmonious and united, to be made up of conflicting elements, ready to come into collision and work mutual destruction, when the power of truth is directed against them. This is described by the great trembling throughout all the host, and by every man's sword being against his fellow. Another instance of panic and mutual slaughter, under somewhat similar circumstances, is related in the Hook of Judges. When the three hundred chosen out of many thousands caused a panic in the unnumbered host of the Midianites, "all the host ran, and cried, and fled: and the Lord set every man's sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host."

These effects of Jonathan's prowess attracted the attention of the Israelites. "The watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked; and, behold, the multitude melted away, and they went on beating down one another." Spiritual watchmen are those who observe the states of the Church and their changes; but as it is the truths relating to these states and their changes which enable the mind to perceive them, the truths themselves are the watchmen, which observe, and communicate the intelligence to the mind. There is a connection between the truths of all the different kinds and degrees which exist in the mind, the higher through the intermediate communicating with the lower; but the higher enters into the lower and perceives all that belongs to it, though the lower does not enter into and perceive the higher until it reveals itself. Saul concluded from the effect that the cause must be sought among themselves. He therefore said to the people that were with him, "Number now, and see who is gone from us. And when they had numbered, behold, Jonathan and his armour-bearer were not there. And Saul said to Ahiah, Bring here the ark of God. For the ark of God was at that time with the children of Israel." When truths are brought into orderly arrangement, it is perceived what truths are gone forth; and through the affection of good counsel is asked of the Lord as to what is to be done. In asking counsel of the Lord through the priest Saul availed himself of a privilege which had been granted to Joshua, when he became the leader of Israel. "And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgement of Urim before the Lord: at his word shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he, and all the children of Israel with him, even all the congregation" (Num 27:21). But Saul does not seem to have proceeded so far as to obtain the Divine direction. For "it came to pass, while Saul talked to the priest, that the noise that was in the host of the Philistines went on and increased: and Saul said to the priest, Withdraw your hand." It does not appear that Saul ever during his reign received an answer to his inquisitions through the priestly mediators. Why was this? Because truth Divine in the Lord's Humanity did not form a true and permanent basis for Divine Truth. By glorification He put off all that was finite, therefore all the appearances of truth, into which He was initiated in His childhood. The same is true, in a finite measure, of the regenerate man. Not apparent but genuine truth is in his mind the true and permanent basis of spiritual truth. It was for this reason that almost everything that Saul did was imperfect. In the present case, Saul did not wait for an answer. He "and all the people that were with him assembled themselves, or were called together, and they came to the battle: and, behold, every man's sword was against his fellow, and there was a very great discomfiture. Moreover the Hebrews that were with the Philistines before that time, which went up with them into the camp from the country round about, even they also turned to be with the Israelites that were with Saul and Jonathan. Likewise all the men of Israel which had hid themselves in mount Ephraim, when they heard that the Philistines fled, even they also followed hard after them in the battle." It appears, therefore, that while the defeat of the garrison produced a panic that spread itself through the whole army of the Philistines, Jonathan's victory aroused into activity and inspired with new courage the whole body of the Israelites. And so it is, that what propagates fear and division and mutual conflict through the ranks of the evil and the false, produces courage and union and mutual aid through the scattered bands of the good and the true. Thus in the day of trial, when the power of evil seems as if it would prevail over the power of good, the Lord of His good Providence, unexpectedly and unseen, opens, even in the darkest hour, a way of deliverance and a door of hope; and if we are but faithful and work together with Him, He will do for us spiritually what He did for Israel naturally. "So the Lord saved Israel that day: and the battle passed over to Beth-aven." Faith in the Lord and co-operation with Him in resisting evil is the state in which He saves us from our sins, and the battle passes over to Beth-aven when a fruitless faith is pursued to its own proper result, which is vanity.

In connection with this battle a very simple incident occurred, but one which acquired importance from its threatening to end the glories of the day in the immolation of him through whom the Lord had worked the great deliverance.

Saul had adjured the people, saying, "Cursed be the man that eats any food until the morning, that I may be avenged on mine enemies." The people abstained from eating; but Jonathan, who heard not his father when the charge was given, tasted a little honey, and would have been put to death but for the determined opposition of the people. There are, however, particulars which it will be instructive to consider.

The imprecation of Saul has a formal resemblance to that uttered by Joshua. " Cursed be the man before the Lord, that rises up and builds Jericho" (Josh 6:26). Such an oath, as the adjuration is here called, was solemn and binding, whether or not it was wise in itself and whatever the result might be, of which we have an instance in Jephthah's vow" (Judges 11). Saul's purpose was to allow no interruption to the progress of the battle. Hut the spiritual meaning that lies under the natural sense is, that no good is to be appropriated until evil is subdued, and the spiritual combatant enters on a new-state. In pursuing their enemies "all they of the land came to a wood," or entered into an obscure state, such as belongs to the natural mind; but there was honey upon the ground; for such a state has its own natural delight and pleasantness. "When the people were come into the wood, behold, the honey dropped; but no man put his hand to his mouth: for the people feared the oath." They loved the honey, but they feared the oath, and exercised true self-denial, which is to •deny ourselves of what we love. But Jonathan, who knew not of the oath, put forth the end of the rod that was in his hand, and dipped it in a honeycomb, and put it to his mouth; and his eyes were enlightened. There is something remarkable in this circumstance. It appears from the sequel that although Jonathan transgressed unconsciously, he was yet held to be guilty; just as those who sinned through ignorance were guilty under the law, and were required to make a sin-offering before they could be forgiven. For evil brought into act, even when done in ignorance of its sinful nature, helps to form an evil habit, which strengthens the inclination from which the act proceeds; and when it becomes known it requires to be expiated by the sacrifice of confession and amendment of life. Yet although Jonathan had sinned his eyes were enlightened. His eyes were enlightened when he tasted the honey, because honey corresponds to natural good and its delight, and this good gives intelligence and enlightens, whence he knew that he had done evil. The eyes of Adam and Eve were opened by eating the forbidden fruit, by which also they acquired the knowledge of good and evil. But a more analogous case is that of Isaiah's prophecy respecting the second Adam: "Butter and honey shall He eat, that He may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good" (Isa 2:15). By the first Adam appropriating sensual science came the knowledge of good and evil; by the second Adam appropriating celestial good with its corresponding natural delight came the power of refusing evil and choosing good. But Jonathan's eyes were enlightened to see that Saul's adjuration was unwise. When told by one of the people of the king's charge, Jonathan said, "My father has troubled the land: see, I pray you, how mine eyes have been enlightened, because I tasted a little of this honey. How much more, if haply the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found? for had there not been now a much greater slaughter among the Philistines?" Saul had subjected the people to a severe trial, which they had so far faithfully if not patiently endured. But if a little honey had done so much for one, what would not a free enjoyment of the spoil of their enemies have done for the whole body of the people? Eating the spoil of enemies, when that was lawful, represented the appropriation by the good of that which is good in itself, the good thus turning to a good use that which the evil had employed for an evil use. Yet notwithstanding that the people were faint, "they smote the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon." Aijalon was in the tribe of Dan, one of the two tribes between whom the land of the Philistines was divided. Simeon, the other tribe, represented faith in the will, and Dan represented good works; so that these appropriately supplanted those who represented intellectual faith without works. Aijalon was also famous as the place over whose valley Joshua commanded the moon to stand still, while he fought the five kings of the Amorites; the moon symbolizing faith, as the sun, which stood over Gibeon, symbolized love (Josh 10:12). The Philistines are spiritually smitten from Michmash to Aijalon, when the conflict with a faultless faith proceeds from knowledge to the good of life.

When they had thus far overcome the Philistines "the people were very faint, or weary, and the people flew upon the spoil, and took sheep, and oxen, and calves, and slew them on the ground: and the people did eat with the blood." Physical weariness after combat is expressive of mental weariness after temptation, which is a sense neither of labour nor of rest, but of a state between. The use of temptation is to free the mind from what is evil and false, and confirm it in what is good and true. But after temptation there is a state of fluctuation, in which the impression of the evil and the false is not entirely effaced, and that of the good and the true is not wholly confirmed; so that there is a sort of mixture of both, and an alternate activity of one and the other. This state is described by fleeing on the spoil and eating with the blood. When it was told Saul that the people were committing this sin, he ordered them to bring him every man his ox, and his sheep, and slay them there and eat, which they did. So, when the mind perceives clearly the evil of that mixed and, therefore, to some extent profane state, a separation is effected. And when this is completed, and good and truth are confirmed, the cause of self-reproach is rolled away, and the mind is able to serve the Lord with singleness and fervour; as Saul now built an altar to the Lord: the same was the first altar that he built to the Lord. The heart itself becomes an altar, when evil is subdued and good is confirmed. If we consider this incident in Saul's history in its highest sense as referring to the Lord, we may see in it a Divine truth relating to the Lord's glorification. The altar in the Jewish Church was a symbol of the Lord Himself: for His Humanity is the altar on which our offerings are laid and which sanctifies the gift. Altars existed before the tabernacle and the temple; in fact the tabernacle and the temple were built in order to provide a place for the altar, that is to say, for the worship of God, which consisted chiefly in burnt-offering and sacrifices, which were offered upon the altar. The building of the first altar was the laying of the first foundation of the tabernacle and the temple, these being, so to speak, built around the altar, as a covering and habitation for it. The first altar we read of is that which was built by Noah, whose history describes the beginning of the spiritual Church, after the celestial had come to an end by a deluge of falsities, which swept away every living principle except a remnant, which was saved to form the commencement of a new Church. Appropriately is the beginning of the worship of this Church described by the building of an altar; for the Lord came to save the spiritual; which He effected by assuming and glorifying human nature, so as to provide a Medium of communication and conjunction between His otherwise unapproachable Divinity and the fallen human race. His Humanity was the medium of approach to His Divinity, as the altar of worship was the consecrated medium of approach to God. Abraham, the father of the representative Church, also built an altar, on which he was to offer Isaac; where the Lord appears not only as the altar but as the sacrifice—for the altar, though a principal, was not the only, representative of the Lord's Humanity. Abraham, we have seen, was the representative of the Lord in the first stage of His descent from celestial to natural, and Saul was the representative of the Lord in the first stage of His ascent from natural to celestial. Therefore the first king, like the first patriarch, built an altar; and this first altar which Saul built was representative of the first foundation of that glorifying process, the completion of which was represented by the completion of the temple of Solomon.

After having fought and pursued the Philistines till the evening, Saul proposed to go down after the Philistines by night, and spoil them until the morning light, and not leave a man of them; to which the people consented. "Then said the priest, Let us draw near here to God." But when Saul asked counsel of God he received no answer that day. Knowing there was something wrong, he called together the chief of the people, to know wherein this sin had been, swearing by the living God that though it should be in his son Jonathan he should surely die. As no one among all the people answered him, Saul put all Israel on one side, and himself and Jonathan on the other. Having prayed the Lord to give a perfect lot, the people escaped, and Saul and Jonathan were taken; and in the second lot Jonathan was taken. Charged by his father, Jonathan said, "I did but taste a little honey with the end of the rod that was in mine hand, and, lo, I must die." On Saul saying that he must surely die, the people said, "Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? God forbid: 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 rescued Jonathan, that he died not."

The singular fact, which occurs several times in the history of the Israelites, that the transgression of one, even though it be, as in this instance, the unconscious infraction of a law, should close heaven against them all, and sometimes open hell, so as to bring upon them terrible calamities, has yet a most instructive meaning, and teaches a most important lesson. The meaning and lesson may be expressed in the words of the apostle, "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one, is guilty of all" (James 2:10). The laws of God have such a connection that one cannot be broken without causing an infraction of the whole. If one link of the golden chain that connects heaven and earth, and God and man, is broken, the connection between them is severed. If the inner and the outer man are out of harmony with each other, unity and united action between them is for the time suspended. If the mind is thus divided prayer remains unanswered, and the enemy remains unsubdued. Yet, as another apostle teaches, "there is a sin to death, and there is a sin not to death" (1 John 5:16, 17). Surely the trespass of Jonathan was a sin not to death. It was a transgression of the letter but not of the spirit; and though the letter may condemn such sins, as Saul condemned Jonathan, yet the general testimony as well as the spirit of the law pronounces are acquittal, as the whole body of the people appealed, with a God forbid, against the judgement.

Saul now went up from following the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place, to intimate that when the state of conflict is ended there is a recession of the conflicting principles, when there is not a complete conquest of one or the other. The conquest of the Philistines, or indeed of any other of the nations hostile to Israel, was not to be effected by Saul. Yet "Saul from this time took the kingdom of Israel, and fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, and against the children of Ammon, and against Edom, and against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines: and whithersoever he turned himself, he vexed them." Truth Divine, when it takes the government, actively opposes evils and falsities of every kind; and although it does not subdue it vexes them, and this restrains them and loosens their hold, so that they may be the more easily shaken off, or entirely subdued, when the power to effect this is acquired. The Amalekites and the Philistines were, however, the chief objects of his opposition, the Amalekites representing falsity grounded in interior evil, and the Philistines representing falsity from exterior evil, which is the practical form of faith alone. This principle is more directly opposed to, and must therefore be opposed by, truth grounded in good, which every king of Israel represented; and so there was sore war against the Philistines all the days of Saul; and this war both necessitates and leads to the acquirement of new truths that maintain charity and works against mere faith, as Saul, when he saw any strong man, or any valiant man, took him to him. Between the first and last of these statements the sacred writer gives an account of Saul's family. His sons and daughters are" the affections of truth and good produced by a right faith in union with true charity, represented by Saul and his wife, Ahinoam, a name which means the brother of grace. The name of the captain of his host was Abner, the son of Ner, Saul's uncle. Of Abner, father of light, we shall have something more to say when we come to treat of his treacherous murder by Joab (2 Sam 3:27). As hosts, or armies, signify the truths of the Church combating against falsities, the captain of the host signifies the principal truth by which they are co-ordinated and directed.

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