Poole on 1 Samuel 14:25-30: Jonathan's Unwitting Violation of the Oath

Verse 25:[1] (Deut. 9:28; Matt. 3:5) And all they of the land came to a wood; and there was (Ex. 3:8; Num. 13:27; Matt. 3:4) honey upon the ground.


[And all the common people of the land went, וְכָל־הָאָ֖רֶץ בָּ֣אוּ] And all the land, they went (Montanus). The people of the land (Pagnine); all the inhabitants of the land (Munster, Jonathan); the people of the whole region (Junius and Tremellius); the whole land, that is, the entire army of the Hebrews (Vatablus). The land is put for the inhabitants of the land, as in verses 29, 30, and in Genesis 41:57[2] (Junius, Piscator, Malvenda, Drusius). [Others translate the passage otherwise, and make אֶרֶץ/land accusative:] And, although they had passed through that whole land, and had entered into the forests; and there was honey in the forest (Syriac). And they traveled that whole land, and entered a certain forest (Arabic).


All they of the land; Hebrew, all the land, that is, the people of the land; as it is explained below, verse 29; and so the word is taken Genesis 41:57. All the Israelites who were with Saul.


[Into a forest pass, בַיָּעַר] Into a forest (thus all interpreters).


[In which there was honey upon the face of the field, וַיְהִ֥י דְבַ֖שׁ עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַשָּׂדֶֽה׃] And honey was upon the face (or on the surface [Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus, Junius and Tremellius]) of the field (Jonathan, Montanus, Syriac), on the plain (Strigelius, Dutch), on the soil of the field (Castalio), upon the ground (English). There are certain terms, which, when added to others, are plainly superfluous; among which is פָּנִים/face, both in this place, and in Genesis 1:2, and darkness was עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְה֑וֹם, upon the face of the deep, that is, on the deep. Thus with the greatest plainness in Genesis 23:3, Abraham stood up מֵעַ֖ל פְּנֵ֣י מֵת֑וֹ, from the face of his dead, that is, from his dead: where use is made of a masculine suffix, although the speech concerns deceased Sarah, because it has regard to the גּוּף/ corpse (Glassius’ “Grammar” 145). Behold, there was in the forest honey flowing from a hive of bees (Arabic). In the hollowed out trunks of trees, or in the clefts of rocks, or in crevices of the very earth, bees were making hives, etc. We see the same in Hispania in wooded and rough places, to the roots of which copious streams of honey flow down (Sanchez). Woodland bees make honey in forests; as it is to be seen in Poland and Muscovy; where hence they fight with woodland bears, with the bees stinging the noses of the bears, etc. (Lapide). Maldonatus on Matthew[3] relates that he saw poor men in Bœtica, who gathered honey from the forests, and were making a profit in the selling of it. And so of bees, which build hives either in the hollows of trees, or in thickets, or in cavities, the Poets everywhere make mention: Hesiod’s Theogony 2301. See the Scholiast on Phocylides,[4] or whoever it is, on Νουθετικῶ[5] 160. Virgil’s Georgics 4: often even in hollows, etc…. So also the Philosopher, History of Animals 5:22. And so even elsewhere honey is found in the forest: but in Judea more frequently, which is often called a land flowing with milk and honey; that is, with a most abundant production of those; an expression used by the poets also. Virgil’s Eclogues 3, let honey flow…. Ovid’s Metamorphoses 1, even now rivers of milk…. In Job 20:17, brooks of honey and butter. Moreover, a rock of this sort [emitting honey] is called a rock of honey, Psalm 81:16.[6] And honey flowing from thence is honey from a rock, Deuteronomy 32:13. Thus from the word יַעַר/yaar, which denotes a forest (as yar in Carthaginian denotes wood in Augustine on Psalm 23), יַעַר/yaar, or יַעֲרָה/yaara, is a honeycomb found particularly in the forest. Thus this in 1 Samuel 14:27, …he dipped it (that is, his rod) בְּיַעְרַ֣ת הַדְּבָ֑שׁ, into a honeycomb of honey. And in Song of Solomon 5:1, I have eaten יַעְרִי, my honeycomb, with my honey (Bochart’s A Sacred Catalogue of Animals 24:12:517).


Verse 26:[7] And 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.


[And was seen flowing honey, וְהִנֵּ֖ה הֵ֣לֶךְ דְּבָ֑שׁ] And behold, was flowing down (or dropping [English]) honey (Pagnine); honey was flowing, running down (Arabic). Honey was running down upon the ground (Vatablus). A flow (or a running down) of honey (Munster, Tigurinus, Drusius, Bochart’s A Sacred Catalogue of Animals). Honey, which flows, is said to go by a Metaphor (Drusius). Thus in Ovid’s Metamorphoses 1, …now rivers of nectar were going, that is, were flowing. הָלַךְ is properly to go or to advance (Bochart’s A Sacred Catalogue of Animals 24:12:518).


The honey dropped. It hath been observed by many travellers and writers, that bees do ofttimes settle themselves, and make their hives and honey, in the trunks of trees, or clefts of rocks, or holes of the earth; and this in divers countries, but eminently in this of Canaan; as may be gathered from Deuteronomy 32:13; Psalm 81:16; whence it was called a land flowing with milk and honey.


[And no one put his hand to his mouth] That is, with honey: or his hand besmeared with honey (Drusius, Vatablus, Piscator).


Verse 27:[8] But Jonathan heard not when his father charged the people with the oath: wherefore he put forth the end of the rod that was in his hand, and dipped it in an honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his eyes were enlightened.


[Jonathan had not heard] He had not yet returned from his invasion of the Philistines (Junius, Piscator).


Jonathan heard not, being then absent, and in pursuit of the Philistines, divers of the Israelites having joined themselves with him, verse 21.


[When his father adjured the people[9]] I prefer to translate it, when he bound with a curse; or when he obtested. For he adjures, who compels to another oath. Saul did not do this. And שְׁבוּעָה does not only signify an oath, but also a curse. Thus this term is explained in Isaiah 65:15.[10] See Kimchi on Numbers 5:21[11] (Drusius on verses 26, 27).


[And he put forth the end of the rod] Or of the spear, which he, as a warrior and soldier, was carrying; or of the scepter, or staff, which he, as the commander of the army, was carrying (Sanchez).


[He dipped it into honeycomb of honey] Thus nearly all translateבְּיַעְרַ֣ת הַדְּבָ֑שׁ. In a nest of honey (Jonathan).


[And his eyes were enlightened (thus the Syriac, Pagnine, Dutch, English, Osiander, Drusius), וַתָּרֹ֖אנָה עֵינָֽיו׃] And they saw and looked up (Septuagint); they shined (Jonathan); they received light (Arabic, Junius and Tremellius, Vatablus); or they were made clearer (Tigurinus, Vatablus), that is, which were previously darkening because of hunger (Vatablus, Drusius, Menochius, Mariana). From fasting, darkness arises, as Plautus says in Curculio (Grotius). Experience teaches this. I knew a man, from whom fasting had withdrawn the faculty of sight: nourishment taken by him restored his spirit and sight: which I hear has happened a thousand times to others (Sanchez). Namely, in such cases, the optic spirits, weakened and enfeebled, were presently restored and revived with new food (Menochius out of Lapide). Moreover, in the Kethib it is תָּרֹאנָה, they saw; in the Qere, תָּאֹרְנָה, they were enlightened, from אוֹר, to shine (Drusius); which verse 29 teaches to be better, where it is אֹרוּ, they were enlightened (Drusius on verse 29). It comes to the same thing, in whichever way you read it (Drusius). Or it is a Synecdoche of member. They received light, that is, he received strength; whence the individual senses were restored (Piscator out of Junius).


His eyes were enlightened; he was refreshed, and recovered his lost spirits, whereof part went into his optic nerves, and so cleared his sight, which was much darkened by famine, as is usual.


Verse 28:[12] Then answered one of the people, and said, Thy father straitly charged the people with an oath, saying, Cursed be the man that eateth any food this day. And the people were faint (or, weary[13]).


[And one of the people answering] Jonathan had come together with his father, and with those that were following up the victory, and, like the other foot soldiers, were walking: which the rocky and rough nature of the place makes likely (Sanchez on verse 27). The soldiers that admonish Jonathan act rightly. For the military discipline is of great moment. He, when he had heard it, abstained (Martyr).


One of the people, who came along with Saul, whose forces were now united with Jonathan’s.


[Whoever eats bread today] That is, until evening, as in verse 24. For evening forms the boundary of an ending day, and sets the beginning of the coming day (Piscator and Malvenda out of Junius).


[Now, the people had fainted, וַיָּעַף] And it was weary (Munster, Jonathan, thus Montanus, Vatablus, Drusius, Piscator), that is, and thus it happened that the people nearly failed because of hunger and weariness (Vatablus). Thus it was wearied (Junius and Tremellius); that is to say, strength fails us, in such a way that we are no longer able to pursue (Malvenda). Although it was wearied in pursuing the enemy, it did not violate the oath (Drusius). The people had been troubled (Syriac); it fainted (Septuagint, Pagnine).


Verse 29:[14] Then said Jonathan, My father hath troubled the land: see, I pray you, how mine eyes have been enlightened, because I tasted a little of this honey.


[My father has troubled the land[15] (thus the Septuagint, Montanus, Junius and Tremellius)] Or the people of the land (Pagnine, Jonathan, Mariana, Munster, Tigurinus), the men of his land (Lyra). He means to say, the soldiers that were pursuing the enemy (Drusius). Transference from troubled waters. He confused their mind and victory (Drusius out of Kimchi). My father has sinned against the people (Arabic). He did not well consult the interests of the Israelite kingdom by this so grievous edict. Saul acted like certain inept magistrates, who attempt to procure for themselves authority by the very severity of their mandates. For it was not needful that he exhaust the strength of this Israelites by so hard a mandate, since God Himself was fighting against their enemies; and it would have been better to preserve one Israelite citizen, than to kill a thousand Philistines (Osiander). Moreover, Jonathan spoke this in youthful zeal, and sinned in publicly reprehending the prohibition of his father, which he ought rather to have excused, lest the people be in an uproar (Lapide).


The land, that is, the people of the land, the whole army, whom by this rash oath he hath greatly injured. The zeal of defending himself makes him run into the other extreme of accusing his father, and that before the people, whom by this means he might have stirred up to a sedition.


Verse 30:[16] How much more, if haply the people had eaten freely to day of the spoil of their enemies which they found? for had there not been now a much greater slaughter among the Philistines?


[How much more if it had eaten, etc., אַ֗ף כִּ֡י לוּא֩ אָכֹ֙ל אָכַ֤ל וגו״] How much more if in eating the people ahd eaten of the spoils of its enemies which it found? (Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus, Dutch, English, similarly Vatablus, Piscator). How much more, understanding, vigorous would it have been, if, etc.? (Vatablus), or, how much more, that is, would the eyes of the people have been enlightened, that is, their strength restored; in such a way that they would have been able to afflict the Philistines with a greater slaughter. אַף כִּי is most frequently used for how much more. It is not unusual for לוּא to mean the same thing as if. Indeed, this is its native signification. But when it means would that, it is made use of by an Ellipsis of the consequent: for example, in Genesis 17:18, if Ishmael might live before thee,[17] understanding, that would be enough, or agreeable, to me. The thought is, Would that he might live. In addition, the latter כִּי posited here is in the place of כִּי אִם, that is, but. Which is a common Ellipsis (Piscator). Others translate it in this way, would that it had eaten, etc. (Septuagint). For truly, if it had eaten, etc. (Jonathan). [Others render the whole verse in this way:] But now, because the people did not eat today…therefore the slaughter of the Philistines is not great (Syriac, similarly the Arabic, Strigelius). [In the place of לוּא, would that, they were reading לוֹא/not.] Others thus: even that (would that the people had freely eaten today of the spoils of their enemies, which would have been sufficient), that, I say, a greater stroke is not now inflicted upon the Philistines (Junius and Tremellius). But that translation does cohere with the preceding sentence; and it has contorted syntax (Piscator).


[Would not a greater stroke have been delivered? כִּ֥י עַתָּ֛ה לֹֽא־רָבְתָ֥ה מַכָּ֖ה] For now had not (would not have [Munster, Pagnine, Vatablus, Drusius out of Kimchi and Rabbi Salomon]) increased the stroke on the Philistines? (Montanus, Munster, etc.). Here, לוֹא/not is in the place of הֲלוֹא, would not (Vatablus out of Munster); and that verse is to be read דֶּרֶךְ תְּמִיהָה, by way of admiration, as Kimchi advises (Munster). Moreover, that אֲשֶׁ֣ר מָצָ֑א they translated, either which it found, that is, it met with; or which had sufficed (thus Junius and Tremellius), as much as was sufficient (Castalio). מָצָא signifies either. (See on Numbers 11:22[18] [Malvenda].) If the people had been refreshed with food, they would have had more strength (Drusius). Jonathan disapproves of the counsel of his father, 1. from the effect, that the people are deprived of strength; which he proves from his own example. 2. From the outcome, that the Philistines were not so smitten. 3. From the correction of the rash, whereby he sets his own pious vow in opposition to the adjuration of his father: because he snatched liberty from the people; and he, preventing the use of the spoils bestowed by God, cast the people into necessity (Malvenda).

[1] Hebrew: וְכָל־הָאָ֖רֶץ בָּ֣אוּ בַיָּ֑עַר וַיְהִ֥י דְבַ֖שׁ עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַשָּׂדֶֽה׃ [2] Genesis 41:57: “And all countries (וְכָל־הָאָרֶץ, and the whole land) came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn; because that the famine was so sore in all lands.” [3] John Maldonatus (1534-1583) was a learned Spanish Jesuit. Pope Gregory XIII had such confidence in his learning that he appointed him to superintend the publication of the Septuagint. He wrote Commentarii in Quatuor Evangelistas. [4] Phocylides was a Greek gnomic poet of the sixth century BC. [5]Poem of Admonition. [6] Psalm 81:16: “He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock (וּ֜מִצּ֗וּר דְּבַ֣שׁ, and from a rock of honey) should I have satisfied thee.” [7] Hebrew: וַיָּבֹ֤א הָעָם֙ אֶל־הַיַּ֔עַר וְהִנֵּ֖ה הֵ֣לֶךְ דְּבָ֑שׁ וְאֵין־מַשִּׂ֤יג יָדוֹ֙ אֶל־פִּ֔יו כִּֽי־יָרֵ֥א הָעָ֖ם אֶת־הַשְּׁבֻעָֽה׃ [8] Hebrew: וְיוֹנָתָ֣ן לֹֽא־שָׁמַ֗ע בְּהַשְׁבִּ֣יעַ אָבִיו֮ אֶת־הָעָם֒ וַיִּשְׁלַ֗ח אֶת־קְצֵ֤ה הַמַּטֶּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּיָד֔וֹ וַיִּטְבֹּ֥ל אוֹתָ֖הּ בְּיַעְרַ֣ת הַדְּבָ֑שׁ וַיָּ֤שֶׁב יָדוֹ֙ אֶל־פִּ֔יו וַתָּרֹ֖אנָה עֵינָֽיו׃ [9] Hebrew: בְּהַשְׁבִּ֣יעַ אָבִיו֮ אֶת־הָעָם֒. [10] Isaiah 65:15: “And ye shall leave your name for a curse (לִשְׁבוּעָה) unto my chosen: for the Lord God shall slay thee, and call his servants by another name…” [11] Numbers 5:21: “Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing (בִּשְׁבֻעַ֣ת הָאָלָה֒), and the priest shall say unto the woman, The Lord make thee a curse and an oath (לְאָלָ֥ה וְלִשְׁבֻעָ֖ה) among thy people, when the Lord doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell…” [12] Hebrew: וַיַּעַן֩ אִ֙ישׁ מֵֽהָעָ֜ם וַיֹּ֗אמֶר הַשְׁבֵּעַ֩ הִשְׁבִּ֙יעַ אָבִ֤יךָ אֶת־הָעָם֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר אָר֥וּר הָאִ֛ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־יֹ֥אכַל לֶ֖חֶם הַיּ֑וֹם וַיָּ֖עַף הָעָֽם׃ [13] Hebrew: וַיָּעַף. [14] Hebrew: וַ֙יֹּאמֶר֙ יֽוֹנָתָ֔ן עָכַ֥ר אָבִ֖י אֶת־הָאָ֑רֶץ רְאוּ־נָא֙ כִּֽי־אֹ֣רוּ עֵינַ֔י כִּ֣י טָעַ֔מְתִּי מְעַ֖ט דְּבַ֥שׁ הַזֶּֽה׃ [15] Hebrew: עָכַ֥ר אָבִ֖י אֶת־הָאָ֑רֶץ. [16] Hebrew: אַ֗ף כִּ֡י לוּא֩ אָכֹ֙ל אָכַ֤ל הַיּוֹם֙ הָעָ֔ם מִשְּׁלַ֥ל אֹיְבָ֖יו אֲשֶׁ֣ר מָצָ֑א כִּ֥י עַתָּ֛ה לֹֽא־רָבְתָ֥ה מַכָּ֖ה בַּפְּלִשְׁתִּֽים׃ [17] Hebrew: ל֥וּ יִשְׁמָעֵ֖אל יִחְיֶ֥ה לְפָנֶֽיךָ׃. [18] Numbers 11:22: “Shall the flocks and the herds be slain for them, to suffice them (וּמָצָ֣א לָהֶ֑ם)? or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to suffice them (וּמָצָ֥א לָהֶֽם׃)?”

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