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(from Good Word Online):

Leading Question: Does the Lord always choose the best man to be his leader?

Key Passages:

  • 1 Samuel 14, Jonathan takes risks for Israel, the people rescue him from Saul
  • 1 Samuel 18-20 Jonathan in covenant with David, protects him from Saul
  • 1 Samuel 31, Saul and his sons die in battle
  • 2 Samuel 1, David mourns the death of Saul his enemy and Jonathan his friend


1. A good question to open discussion: If you could vote for one of the following as king/president, which one would you choose: Saul, David, or Jonathan?

2. Covenant loyalty: One of the most moving narratives of human friendship in Scripture. The story of Jonathan and David’s commitment to each other, as told in 1 Samuel 20 illustrates on the human level, one of the most important theological words in the Old Testament: chesed. Probably best translated as “covenant loyalty,” chesed is the word that describes God’s commitment to Israel. What are the characteristics of the commitment of these two men to each other that reveals the nature of God’s love for his children and can guide us in our relationships with each other?

3. The battle in 1 Samuel 14. Four points worth noting:

  • The importance of oath. Several Old Testament narratives illustrate the significance of an oath. The bond between Jonathan and David was marked by an oath (1 Sam 20:13-17). The story of Rizpah in 2 Samuel 21 (see lesson for November 27) provides two additional examples of crucial oaths: Joshua’s oath to preserve the Gibeonites (Joshua 9), an oath which Saul broke; and David’s oath to Jonathan which resulted in his sparing Mephibosheth when the “payment” of seven lives was demanded by the Gibeonites for the oath which Saul broke (1 Sam 21:7-9).
  • Avoiding the consequences of a bad oath. Oaths also figure prominently in the horrendous story of the dismembered concubine (Judges 19-21). There the Israelites had sworn to kill anyone who did not come out to battle against Benjamin (Judges 21:5) and also that no one should give their daughter in marriage to Benjamin (Judges 21:1). The first oath led to the slaughter of the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead. But 400 virgins were saved from Jabesh to satisfy the requirements of the second oath, providing wives for Benjamin so that Israel would not break its oath. But when the 400 virgins did not suffice, Israel came up with a plan to supply wives for the men of Benjamin without breaking their oath: the wifeless men would snatch a maiden during the dances at the annual festival at Shiloh. They would explain to the families who thus “lost” a virgin daughter that at least a wife had been provided without “guilt” have been incurred (Judges 21:22).

Just as Israel found a way around a problem oath in Judges 21, so Israel found a way around a problem oath in the story of 1 Samuel 14. Saul had sworn that no one was to eat anything until God had given them victory (14:24). Jonathan had not heard the oath and tasted some honey (14:27-28). The broken oath, even though done ignorantly, meant that the Lord would not respond to Saul’s request for counsel (14:37). Saul seemed to sense that his rash oath had been broken and affirmed that the guilty one would die, “even if it is my son Jonathan” (14:39). When the lots were cast, Jonathan had been identified as the culprit (14:43). But when Saul announced that he must die, the people intervened. In the words of Scripture: “So the people ransomed Jonathan, and he did not die” (14:45). In terms of divine justice, Saul was credited with keeping his oath; but the action of the people saved Jonathan. Like the circumvention of the oath through the dancing maidens of Judges 21, so the people’s rescue of Jonathan represents another notable avoidance of the consequences of a bad oath. Question: How does this approach to an oath differ from the way that we would approach an oath or a promise today?

Speaking to Israel’s oath to preserve the Gibeonites, in spite of their deception, Ellen White comments as follows:

And though the oath had been secured by deception, it was not to be disregarded. The obligation to which one’s word is pledged–if it do not bind him to perform a wrong act – should be held sacred. No consideration of gain, of revenge, or of self-interest can in any way affect the inviolability of an oath or pledge. “Lying lips are abomination to the Lord.” Proverbs 12:22. He that “shall ascend into the hill of the Lord,” and “stand in His holy place,” is “he that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.” Psalms 24:3; 15:4. — Patriarchs and Prophets, 506

  • Rare instance of Urim and Thummim. In the NRSV, 1 Samuel 14:41-42 describes the actual usage of Urim and Thummim, apparently two stones placed on the breastplate of the high priest that are used when a yes/no answer is required. What is remarkable about this instance is that the Hebrew Bible (Masoretic text) is missing the part that explicitly mentions Urim and Thummim. The missing part has been added from the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint = LXX). The footnote in the NRSV is not at all illuminating. The NIV includes the missing part in a footnote, but not in the main text; NASB and NKJV ignore the addition completely. CEV, in keeping with its practice of not using unique biblical langauge does not use the words Urim and Thummim. Ralph Klein, in 1 Samuel (Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 10), p 131, includes not only the missing part about Urim and Thummim, but another section of text that is also found only in the Greek Old Testament. Here is Klein’s translation of the section (1 Samuel 14:38-42) that includes the full text as found in the Greek Bible: The missing parts is bolded in the text the follows:

38 So Saul said, “Bring here all the officers of the troops so that we may know and see how this sin happened today. 39 As Yahweh lives, who delivers Israel, even if this sin involves my son Jonathan, he shall surely die!” Not one of the troops replied to him. 40 Then he said to all Israel, “You will be on one side, and I and Jonathan my son will be on the other side.” The troops again said to Saul, “Do what is good in your eyes.” 41 Saul said, “O Yahweh God of Israel, why have you not answered your servant today? If this iniquity is in me or in Jonathan my son, O Yahweh God of Israel give Urim. But if this iniquity is in your people Israel, give Thummin.” The result was that Jonathan and Saul were taken while the troops went free. 42 Saul went on, “Make the lot fall between me and between Jonathan my son. The one Yahweh takes shall die.” Although the troops said it shouldn’t be this way, Saul forced them and they cast between him and Jonathan his son. The result was that Jonathan was taken.

In both cases, Klein notes that the omission in the Masoretic text is the result of a classical scribal error, called “homoioteleuton,” an omission because the scribe’s eye skipped from one word to the same word later in the text, leaving out everything in between. In verse 41 the scribe’s eye skipped everything between “Israel” and “Israel”; in verse 42 his eye skipped everything between “Jonathan my son” and “Jonathan his son.” Dealing with such omissions in the biblical text can be very troubling for some. In class, when the study guide author [Thompson] was dealing with the three major New Testament passages where part of the “received” text can go missing in modern translations [the doxology of the Lord’s prayer, Mat 6:13; the story of the woman taken in adultery, John 7:53-8:11; the trinity proof-text, 1 John 5:7], a young woman wrote this rather wrenching response:

I guess I really don’t understand. If we teach our children the doxology part, wouldn’t we want it in our Bible, too? The story of the adulteress – if it is not in the old manuscripts then how do we know that it is true? I guess that maybe I am one of those people that you talk about that have a hard time with the fact that you are raising up questions about the word of God. It is really starting to upset me the way you are making the Bible seem like it all might not be true. See, when I was a kid a lot of people turned out to be not true. They let me down and now I don’t trust them. Well, you are making the Bible feel like I can’t trust it. How do I know what really happened and what did not happen? I have always been able to feel security in the Bible. When I was scared or frightened as a kid I would sleep with it. I always felt safe then. But your class is bringing up questions that I don’t like and can’t deal with. Please help gain back the trust I am losing. Thanks.

  • Providence. In the battle that took the life of Saul, a nearly-flawless Jonathan also lost his life. What does Jonathan’s experience tell us about how Providence works in “protecting” God’s people?