“And Jonathan said to the young man that bare his armour, come, and let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised: it may be that the LORD will work for us: for there is no restraint to the LORD to save by many or by few.”
To Saul, it had come to seem terribly important that he with his forces should begin to move against the garrison of the Philistines which were encamped at Michmash. Time was of essential importance; not another moment of it could be wasted; it had become an obsession with him. For seven days Saul had waited for Samuel to come and sacrifice for him at Gilgal as he had promised to do; and they had been wasted days in fact. Saul had not used them to exercise and drill his men in preparation for battle. He had not gone to walk among his men with words of encouragement and assurance. All through those, seven days he had sat silently- by himself, deep in gloomy thought, inwardly paralyzed with fear. And the results were to be seen all around him. The morale of his men was broken; their hearts were tasting the bitter pangs of fright also. To find hiding places among rocks and bushes was their only concern; desertion was running rampant; few doubted but that the situation was hopeless. And yet Saul couldn’t come to believe that; after all he was king and it couldn’t end this way, in utter disaster. Gradually, day after day, his mind had begun to set itself upon that sacrifice which Samuel was going to offer as holding the critical key to his situation. More and more he had come to think and feel and fully expect that at the moment that sacrifice was offered something would happen to break the power of the Philistines and suddenly their army would begin to melt away before him as the Ammonites had at Jabesh. Oh, how he remembered that day at Jabesh; and why couldn’t it happen again for him here with the Philistines? It just had to! Early on that seventh day, he was up waiting for Samuel; and when Samuel wasn’t right there, he felt bitterly disappointed. When noon came and still Samuel had not appeared, it seemed little short of treachery. Didn’t Samuel realize the criticalness of the situation. Obsessed as he was; Saul could wait no longer. He determined, to sacrifice himself, and he did so without delay: Then Samuel had come, he warned Saul of the fatal consequences of this his impulsive action, and he left. Now Saul was free to go ahead with his battle; nothing hindered him any longer. But what was he going to do, his few men against that mass of the Philistines. He still had not the least idea. He needed time, time to think, time to find some plan of action. And so, so as not to appear completely inactive, he decided to number his troops. It was perhaps the most foolish thing he could have done under the circumstances. Now reality stared him in the face: only six hundred men remained faithful any longer behind him. But yet it seemed to help. Now he knew he could do nothing.
The fact of the matter was that the makings of a king just were not Saul’s possession. He could dream, he always had, of how someday he would sally forth at the head of a large army to, lead them valiantly into battle until everyone acclaimed his greatness. Dreams came easy for him. And he could act too, he could act by impulse as he had done at Jabesh, and he could act from a position of overwhelming strength; but, when it came down to difficult situations which took careful planning and courage to see through, then action was impossible for him. Careful planning was beyond him, and unfavorable odds paralyzed him. Wisdom, discretion, and courage, the true making of a king, Saul just did not have. And yet, that in itself need not have mattered had he possessed the one thing more important than anything else in Israel-faith in Jehovah Israel’s God; but that he didn’t have either. He had not had it before he had become king, not even the pretense of it. Now he did have the pretense. Through his anointing and ordination by Samuel, Saul for the first time had committed himself to religion—at least, that is, he had come to look upon the worship of Jehovah as a sort of magical rite which he could go through so as to insure his success in the royal office; but true faith, that spiritual act of clinging in complete trust to the mercy of Jehovah, that he did not have. And so at Gibeah, Saul found himself helpless. Days again went past while the Philistines did what they pleased in the land; but Saul made not one move against them. All he could feel was hopeless fear destroying his every incentive.
Once again, it was. Jonathan that brought this stalemate to its conclusion. Jonathan was different from his father. He possessed that one thing which Saul so sorely lacked—faith; he believed with all of his heart in the greatness and mercy of Israel’s God. Beyond that, we have no indication to think that his abilities were any great deal more than those of his father. Surely he did not possess those abilities of leadership which his friend David later evinced. But that didn’t really matter. The faith of Jonathan was sufficient to cause his life to glow unto this day as an example of a man who lived by the power of faith. When the Scriptures said to him, “One man of you shall chase a thousand: for the LORD your God, he it is that fighteth for you, as he hath promised you,” (Joshua 23:10) he believed it, and accordingly he took action. Without a word of explanation to anyone, not even to his father, he called his armour-bearer to him and said, “Come, and let us go over unto the garrison of those uncircumcised: it may be that the LORD will work for us: for there is no restraint to the LORD to save by many or by few.” We can only conclude that this armor-bearer of Jonathan was of equal spiritual caliber with his master. He made no objection to Jonathan’s plan, apparently so utterly foolish, but silently the two men stole out of the camp together. They had decided to place their lives in the hand of the Lord, and from this decision they now would not waver.
The camp of the Philistines was to be found some miles away from the place where the remnant of Saul’s army was gathered. It was on a hill which went under the name of Michmash and could actually be seen by the men of Saul in spite of the distance between them. The land was hilly and covered with thick forest except for those places where rough, rocky crags jutted out from among the trees. Between the two armies; there was a deep valley that had to be crossed over.
For Jonathan and his armor-bearer to cross through this valley without being observed was not difficult because of the cover of trees. In fact, being as few as they were, they might well have come almost to the very edge of the Philistines’ camp without exposing themselves. But the plan of Jonathan was at the same time both far more daring and far more clever than this. Jutting out from this hill of Michmash were two rocky pillars reaching out far above the trees and attached to the hillside by narrow, rocky ridges. So spectacular were these two pillars that they had even been given names, Bozes and Seneh respectively. Upon the one of these rocky pillars, the Philistines had evidently placed a watch to look out for the approach of Israel’s army, while Jonathan’s plan was to approach the camp of the Philistines by passing over the other. The advantage of this was that they would be exposing themselves to the Philistines watchmen on the other rock while close enough to talk to them but far enough away to be safe from their weapons.
What Jonathan wanted very badly was to know the reaction of the Philistines to his presence before he actually advanced into their camp. This was for a double reason. First, in accord with the faith in which he was proceeding, he had asked the Lord to mold the reply of the Philistines to the discovery of his presence in such a way that it would form a sign for him as to whether or not he should proceed. If the Philistines upon seeing him should urge him to come up to them to do battle, he should do so, confident of the Lord’s blessing; but if they threatened to come down to fight with him, he should desist. Behind this, there was, in the second place, an understanding of the working of God. From the day of Moses on, the method by which Jehovah weakened Israel’s enemies was to strike fear deeply into their hearts, and the challenge the Philistines gave to him would reflect whether this was now happening. If the Philistines were confident and self-assured, they would be eager for battle and upon seeing him would offer to come down and do battle where he stood. On the other hand, however, if they were fearful and troubled inside, they would tell him that he must come up and fight them amid their established fortifications.
As it was, Jonathan’s hopes were not very far from reality. The Philistines were, not so sure and confident as Saul and his men might have expected. They had long ago learned that victory against the children of Israel was not something that could be taken for granted no matter what odds might appear to be in their favor, After all, how often had not Samson all by himself left their greatest forces in shameful defeat. And could they forget that battle at Mizpeh where they were turned back by nothing more than a storm while the Israelites never as much as raised a sword. And now, just a short time ago, one of their well-disciplined garrisons had been completely destroyed by Jonathan and his band of motley men. They never knew, some times they could sally forth into Israel without a bit of opposition, while at other times they would be struck down in inglorious defeat as though by a bolt from heaven. There were forces at work there in Israel which they just did not understand. And now they could feel that uncertainty creeping up within them again, that foreboding that things were not going to be going their way.
Thus when the watch of the Philistines saw Jonathan and his armor-bearer climbing up over the rock opposite them, a nervous fear suddenly took hold of them. If there were two that dared to expose themselves so boldly against the horizon, it must be that the forest below them was teaming with troops. Their challenge to Jonathan, “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing,” was meant to have the sound of scorn, but in actuality it only exposed their uncertainty. To Jonathan it was as a voice from heaven urging him on. Quickly, he and his armor-bearer advanced along their rocky crag toward the camp of the Philistines, while the watchmen of the Philistines cried out their frightened alarm. From the camp of the Philistines anxious soldiers poured forth to meet the forces of Israel on the hillside below Jonathan’s rocky crag, while a few of the most daring advanced gingerly out on the ridge to meet Jonathan and his armor-bearer. The ridge was narrow and only one could approach them at a time; but one by one they came and were quickly handled. Jonathan grasping them would throw them down, and his armor-bearer administering the death blow would roll them from the ridge into the trees below them where the rest of the Philistines were futilely hunting for the rest of the men of Israel. For them it was as a nightmare, hunt as they might they could not find an enemy while down through the trees from the ridge above the bodies of their comrades came rolling, until all of twenty of their bodies lay before them. It drove them to the point of hot frenzy until at last they began to strike out at every figure they met crawling through the bushes. Soon the whole hillside of Michmash was a churning mass of humanity, Philistine against Philistine, destroying themselves in the blindness of hot rage, and fear and anger. Israel’s God had heard the prayer of Jonathan and had answered it.