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Jonathan’s Fate

I love my Sunday School class.  Our teacher is Mr. Stemen who is actually an even better Sunday School teacher than a computer teacher.  I learn a lot at Sunday School and am continually challenged on a personal level.  A few Sundays ago we were in I Samuel.

In chapter 13 Saul offers the sacrifice before Samuel comes and Samuel says, “Thou has done foolishly“.  In chapter 14  Jonathan and his armor bearer defeat a 20 man garrison of the Philistines.  In 14:3 “the people knew not that Jonathan was gone“.  After their victory it says vs. 15 that the “earth quaked“.  Saul then numbered his company in vs. 17 and found that “Jonathan and his armor bearer were not there“.   For the trembling Saul “talked unto a priest” apparently looking for direction from God as to what to do, but “noise that was in the host of the Philistines went on and increased” Saul stopped consulting and assembled the people and went to meet the Philistines.  There they found “every man’s sword was against his fellow“.  Such sets the stage for the account I am interested in.

At some point during the battle Saul “adjured the people, saying Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening, that I may be avenged on mine enemies.”  We are specifically told that “Jonathan heard not when his father charged the people with the oath“, therefore when he saw a honeycomb he ate some honey and “his eyes were enlightened.”  Only then did one of the people tell him of his fathers command.  Jonathan defends his actions and implies that his fathers command limited their victory.

As for the remainder of the people they “flew upon the spoil” and “did eat them with the blood“.  When Saul was told he stops the practice.  Later Saul asks God if they should mount a night attack on the Philistines.  When God doesn’t answer “that day” Saul assumes there is sin and deepens the punishment from the “Cursed be the man” earlier to “shall surely die.”  Saul also specifically says “though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die“.

Lots are drawn, and when Jonathan’s lot is taken he tells his father about the honey saying “and, lo, I must die.”  Mr. Stemen took this along the lines of You’re kidding right?  Die for eating a bit of honey when I didn’t know of the command?  It was also later pointed out in our class that Saul knew Jonathan had not heard the decree because he had numbered the people and found Jonathan missing.  I have no reason to doubt this interpretation.  In my mind I had been thinking that it was more of a confirmation of the results of the command saying I understand I have violated the command and must therefore receive the punishment of the death., but I know of no support either way.

Regardless Saul says “for thou shalt surely die, Jonathan“.  Verse 45 then says “And the people said unto Saul, Shall Jonathan die, who hath wrought his great salvation in Israel?  God forbid: as the LORD liveth, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground; for he hath wrought with God this day.  So the people rescued Jonathan, that he died not.”

It was pointed out by someone in our class that when Saul first became king he prevented those that had opposed him from being killed, but that here opposition from his own son should meet with death.  On the other hand it was also pointed out that it appears God did not answer Saul about the battle because of Jonathan’s vioation of the king’s command.

Thinking about these things leads me to several questions.  Why is Jonathan held accountable for a command he did not hear?  Was is going against the garrison wrong because it was not a command of Saul?  Is it just that the violation of the command must be punished even though Jonathan’s action was not a personal sin?  Was Jonathan’s sin that of not explaining the situation to his father as soon as he heard of the command?  In this later case Jonathan could have prevented his fathers seeming elevation of the punishment from curse to death.

On the other hand the text as a whole seems to cast Jonathan in a better light than Saul.  Saul had just sinned before God with the sacrifice and then stopped from inquiring of God to go to battle and then makes a decree that made it difficult for the people not to sin in eating the blood.  At the same time Jonathan covenants with God for a battle, trusts God for strength in the battle, and of course later basically gives the kingdom he was destined for to David.  Of course good does not justify wrongdoing.

So the question is, should Jonathan have died.  The command was clear — death.  Saul gave no exception for Jonathan or his armorbearer even though he knew they were not present for the command, going as far as to specifically point out that if it Jonathan that he will be killed.  God apparently was honoring his King by witholding an answer.

Unfortunatly this is a situation I don’t know the answer for.  My heart goes out to Jonathan as did the people’s, yet my logic says he should have died.  Perhaps I’m missing something that will bring this all into focus.

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Categories: Bible, Uncategorized
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