Poole on 1 Samuel 14:36-46: Saul's Oath, Jonathan's Peril
Verse 36: And Saul said, Let us go down after the Philistines by night, and spoil them until the morning light, and let us not leave a man of them. And they said, Do whatsoever seemeth good unto thee. Then said the priest, Let us draw near hither unto God.
[And let us ravage them, וְנָבֹזָה] Let us plunder (Septuagint, Syriac, Tigurinus, Montanus, Pagnine, Junius and Tremellius); let us pillage (Munster, Castalio); it is put in the place of to destroy; just as ἐναρίζειν, to strip a slain foe, in Homer (Castalio). Let us slay them (Arabic, Jonathan).
[The priest said, Let us draw hither to God] That is to say, thy counsel is satisfying, but let us consult the Lord (Menochius). It was fitting that, before any matter of great moment was undertaken, the Lord be consulted. Saul, who seemed wise enough to himself, had been forgetful of this command (Martyr).
Then said the priest, let us draw near, etc.: Remembering Saul’s contempt of God’s ordinance the last time, and the in consequence of it; and perceiving Saul ready to run into the same error again, even though he had not now the same pretence of the necessity of haste as before, and that the people were forward to comply with the motion; he gives them this pious and prudent advice.
[Hither] That is, either to the altar raised by the king (Sanchez), or rather, to the Ark (Sanchez, Lapide); for the priest was not withdrawing from that (Sanchez).
Hither unto God, to wit, to the ark, as above, verse 18.
Verse 37: And Saul asked counsel of God, Shall I go down after the Philistines? wilt thou deliver them into the hand of Israel? But (1 Sam. 28:6) he answered him not that day.
[He answered him not] For, God was offended, either, 1. by Saul, on account of the law rashly made, says Chrysostom; or (which I prefer) on account of his hypocrisy, says Gregory (Lapide); or because by his own rashness he had caused the people to eat blood, which was capital. But he thought it sufficient to reprehend this scandal with a single word; but the violator of his own edict he wholeheartedly willed to pursue with death (Martyr). Or, 2. He was offended by Jonathan [concerning whom more things are to be said straightaway].
He answered him not that day: Either, 1. Because he was displeased with Saul for his former neglect, verses 18, 19, where he began to ask advice of God, but was so rude and impious as not to tarry for an answer; and therefore it was but a just retaliation, if when Saul did ask, God would not vouchsafe him an answer. Or, 2. To manifest his dislike of the violation of oaths. For although Jonathan might have a fair excuse from his invincible ignorance and urgent necessity; and though Saul had done foolishly in making this oath (which also God would this way discover); yet when once it was made, God would hereby teach them that it should be observed, and that they should abstain even from all appearance of the breach of it.
Verse 38: And Saul said, (Josh. 7:14; 1 Sam. 10:19) Draw ye near hither, all the chief (Heb. corners, Judg. 20:2) of the people: and know and see wherein this sin hath been this day.
[The corners of the people (thus Pagnine, Montanus, Tigurinus, Munster, Vatablus, Drusius, Septuagint)] The princes, or nobles, of the people, who is a republic are that which in a building the corners are (Vatablus out of Munster, Drusius), who prop up the republic (Menochius). The corners are made up of greater stones (Mariana). [See Judges 20:2.]
[The heads of the people (Jonathan), פִּנּ֣וֹת הָעָ֑ם] Others thus translate it, the cohorts of the people (Strigelius); the ranks of the army (Castalio); the families of the people (Syriac, Arabic); from all the extremities of the people (Junius and Tremellius). Let all be present, even those that are in the outermost camps (Serarius, Tostatus and Lyra in Menochius).
All the chief of the people; in the name of all the people, that you may be witnesses, and may see where the fault lies.
[Through whom this sin occurred] From the Lord’s silence a suspicion arose in Saul, that because of the sin of one He was angry with all Israel, as formerly in Joshua 7 (Menochius).
[בַּמָּה] In what, that is, in what matter was this sin (Vatablus, Piscator). Or, by whom this sin was committed (Munster, Tigurinus, similarly the Arabic). But how is Jonathan not brought forth either by others that saw him eating, or by himself. Response: Because they did not think that this crime was capital (for Saul had proposed that punishment), or of such weight, that for that reason God was unwilling to respond (Martyr).
Verse 39: For, (2 Sam. 12:5) as the LORD liveth, which saveth Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die. But there was not a man among all the people that answered him.
Though it be in Jonathan my son, etc.: None of those who either saw Jonathan eating, or heard of it, informed against him; partly because they were satisfied that his ignorance excused him, and that there was some other reason of God’s not answering; and partly from their great love to Jonathan, whom they would not expose to death for so small an offence.
Verse 40: Then said he unto all Israel, Be ye on one side, and I and Jonathan my son will be on the other side. And the people said unto Saul, Do what seemeth good unto thee.
[Be ye separated into one part, לְעֵ֣בֶר אֶחָ֔ד] In one passage (Montanus, Jonathan); on one side (Syriac, Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus, Junius and Tremellius, Vatablus, Drusius). There were two small boxes; in one was all the people, and in the other Saul and Jonathan (Kimchi in Drusius).
Verse 41: Therefore Saul said unto the LORD God of Israel, (Prov. 16:33; Acts 1:24) Give a perfect (or, shew the innocent) lot. (Josh. 7:16; 1 Sam. 10:20, 21) And Saul and Jonathan were taken: but the people escaped (Heb. went forth).
[Give a sign, הָ֣בָה תָמִ֑ים] Give, or show, integrity (Montanus, Drusius), or perfection (Pagnine), or holiness (Septuagint). That is, give a sign, whereby thou mightest signify thyself to love holiness, and to abominate sin: or, so that, with the sinner removed, the holiness, from which thy people fell, might be restored to it (Menochius). Display equity (Syriac); ordain integrity (Tigurinus, Vatablus), that is, a true lot (Vatablus). Show the one with integrity (Junius and Tremellius, Drusius, Piscator). Declare the innocent, or who is innocent; and thereby declare the guilty also: but he makes use of a Euphemism, as hypocrites are wont to do, 1 Kings 20:10 (Junius, Piscator). Therefore, it is Irony, or Antiphrasis (Piscator). Show the innocent (English in the margin). Give a whole or perfect lot (Munster, Strigelius, Dutch, English, similarly the Hebrews in Munster). The challenge is arrogant, and not sufficiently pious for the exact righteousness of God (Munster). Act strictly (Castalio). תָּמִים/complete/whole is also able to be in the place of בְּתָמִים/sincerely; give sincerely and truly. Or, show the whole, that is, wholly; as one walking whole, that is, with integrity (Drusius). Cause to come (understanding, the lot [Vatablus]) in truth (Jonathan in Vatablus), or, according to the truth of the matter; so that the lot might fall upon the one sinning (Vatablus). Others: Give perfection, or the perfect; that is, that work of inquisition perfectly. Others: Give the whole; that is, give the lot wholly, perfectly, simply, or universally; that is, lest He should except anyone from the lot (Malvenda).
Give a perfect lot, or declare (for giving is oft put for declaring or pronouncing, as Deuteronomy 11:29; 13:1, 2; Proverbs 9:9) the perfect or guiltless person; that is, O Lord, so guide the lot, that it may discover who is guilty in this matter, and that it may clear the innocent.
[But the people went forth, יָצָאוּ] They went out (Septuagint, Jonathan, Syriac, Pagnine, Montanus), not from the urn, but from danger (Menochius). It escaped (Arabic, Munster, Tigurinus, Strigelius, Dutch, English); they were acquitted by the lots (Vatablus, Junius, Piscator, Malvenda, Drusius).
The people escaped, to wit, the danger; they were pronounced guiltless.
Verse 42: And Saul said, Cast lots between me and Jonathan my son. And Jonathan was taken.
[Send the lot, הפִּילוּ] Cast (Septuagint, Montanus), understanding, the lot (Munster, Pagnine, Vatablus, Jonathan); choose by lot (Syiac, Junius and Tremellius).
[And Jonathan was captured] What is this? Saul had grievously sinned, and he is passed over; Jonathan, who had hardly offended, is caught. Now, they think that this happened in this way, either, 1. so that Saul might receive the greater affliction. For who would have exacted punishment of him, if he had sinned? But, with Jonathan taken, it is necessary that his bowels be moved: or, 2. so that God might consult royal dignity, and so that the people might not despise it (Martyr): so that God might establish that obedience, which is due to princes (Menochius): or, 3. so that He might confirm military discipline (Martyr): or, 4. so that by this example He might teach the power of the imprecations of parents, which we read to be hurtful to children not partaking in the fault (Menochius): or, 5. because God desired to justify Jonathan; and so that all might understand that he ate, being ignorant of the edict (Martyr). Response 2: Some maintain that Jonathan sinned; 1. Because, although he was ignorant of the law of his father, he was able easily to know it from those that he had with him; and he saw that they, although greatly hungering, tasted nothing (Lapide out of Serarius). 2. Because he thus insolently reprehended the edict of his father. For, the edicts of princes, although they appear grievous, are not to be rescinded publicly (Martyr).
Jonathan was taken: God so ordered the lot; not that he approved Saul’s execration, verse 24, or his oath that the transgressor should die, verse 39, nor that he would expose Jonathan to death; (for he designed so to rule the hearts of the people, and of Saul also, that Jonathan should not die;) but because he would have the whole matter brought to light; partly, that Saul’s folly might be chastised, when he saw what danger it had brought upon his eldest and excellent son; partly, that Jonathan’s innocency might he cleared; and partly, to stablish the authority of kings and rulers, and the obedience which subjects owe to all their lawful commands.
Verse 43: Then Saul said to Jonathan, (Josh. 7:19) Tell me what thou hast done. And Jonathan told him, and said, (1 Sam. 14:27) I did but taste a little honey with the end of the rod that was in mine hand, and, lo, I must die.
[And, behold, I die, הִנְנִ֥י אָמֽוּת׃] Behold, shall I die? (Pagnine, Vatablus). Am I therefore guilty of death! (Jonathan in Vatablus). I die, that is, I am destined for death. As those things that are now near, that they might be done, are reckoned as accomplished (Sanchez).
I did but taste a little honey, etc.: I am sentenced to death for it; which is hard measure. He had another answer, that he knew not of his father’s command; but that being said before, verse 27, it was needless here to repeat it.
Verse 44: And Saul answered, (Ruth 1:17) God do so and more also: (1 Sam. 14:39) for thou shalt surely die, Jonathan.
[God do these things to me, etc.] Because he broke out so easily into an oath, he appears to have been incessant swearer: and he has a greater regard for the oath, than for the law, that one that has integrity should be preserved from death: Thus he passes sentence upon himself, which God executed upon him in His time. Concerning this formula, see on Ruth 1:17 (Junius, Piscator, Malvenda).
God do so and more also, etc.: From this and other like expressions of Saul’s, some gather that he was exceeding prone to the vice of swearing and cursing.
[With death thou shalt die, Jonathan] A man of remarkable character, indeed, who would prefer to spare an impious King, rather than a good son. See the following chapter (Grotius). Since Saul was able to spare both Agag, and those that had eaten blood, why was he not able to pardon his son? This is certainly human nature, as we see it today; that they make much of their own decrees, but despise the laws and commandments of God. Thou shalt die; but why does he not consult the Lord, the prophets, the priests? Why not be wise after the example of Jephthah! But here appears Saul’s, 1. ambition; inasmuch as he attributes so much to his own decrees. 2. Hypocrisy, inasmuch as he desires to appear studious of the law of God, which he actually altogether despised. Saul sinned in two things, 1. that he swore rashly; 2. that he willed foolishly to pay (Martyr).
Thou shalt surely die: strange perverseness! He who was so indulgent as to spare wicked Agag, 1 Samuel 15, is now so severe as to destroy his own worthy son: he that could easily dispense with God’s righteous and reasonable command, will not bear the violation of his own rash and foolish command; because his own authority and power is concerned in this, and only God’s in the other.
Verse 45: And the people said unto Saul, Shall Jonathan die, who hath wrought this great salvation in Israel? God forbid: (2 Sam. 14:11; 1 Kings 1:52; Luke 21:18) 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.
[For he hath wrought with God (thus Vatablus, Drusius, Junius and Tremellius, English), כִּֽי־עִם־אֱלֹהִ֥ים עָשָׂ֖ה] With God he did (Montanus, Pagnine), or acted (Munster, Tigurinus). עָשָׂה, to do, and פָּעַל, to do, explain each other (Drusius). It is a Hebraism; that is to say, with God as author, or with the help of God, He wrought this salvation (Vatablus). Before God it was manifest that he sinned through ignorance (Jonathan). God was efficacious through him (Strigelius). He did a good thing with God, and with the people; he put his faith in God, and surrendered his life for the people of the Lord (Kimchi in Drusius). He wrought because he pleased God, and was advantageous to the people (Mariana). He delivered the people of God (Syriac, Arabic).
With God, that is, in concurrence with God, or by God’s help he had wrought this salvation. God is so far from being offended with Jonathan, as thou apprehendest, that he hath graciously owned and assisted him in the great service of this day.
[Therefore, the people delivered Jonathan] Not by authority, but by entreaty; just as the Roman people delivered Fabius Rutilianus before Papirius Dictator, Livy’s History of Rome 8. Neither ought the oath of Saul to have hindered at this point, as what was containing an unjust severity in itself. See the things said in The Law of War and Peace 2:13:6. Nevertheless, Saul sinned προπετῶς ὀμνύων, by precipitous swearing, and the severe things pronounced by him at length recoiled upon him (Grotius). If the people did these things seditiously, as if they would by force rescue Jonathan from the king, they are by no means able to be excused. For, in a Republic, all things ought to be done in order and without tumult (Martyr). Such heroic deed, of which sort was this of the people, are not rashly to be imitated; but the magistrate is to be approached with petitions, that he might mitigate his harsh sentences (Osiander).
Verse 46: Then Saul went up from following the Philistines: and the Philistines went to their own place.
[He did not pursue] For, night had furnished for them a place and time of flight: Then, because God had not answered, he was not daring to purse them (Drusius).
Saul went up from following the Philistines; partly because he was discouraged by God’s refusing to answer him; and partly because his delays had given them occasion to secure themselves.
 Hebrew: וַיֹּ֣אמֶר שָׁא֡וּל נֵרְדָ֣ה אַחֲרֵי֩ פְלִשְׁתִּ֙ים׀ לַ֜יְלָה וְֽנָבֹ֥זָה בָהֶ֣ם׀ עַד־א֣וֹר הַבֹּ֗קֶר וְלֹֽא־נַשְׁאֵ֤ר בָּהֶם֙ אִ֔ישׁ וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ כָּל־הַטּ֥וֹב בְּעֵינֶ֖יךָ עֲשֵׂ֑ה ס וַ֙יֹּאמֶר֙ הַכֹּהֵ֔ן נִקְרְבָ֥ה הֲלֹ֖ם אֶל־הָאֱלֹהִֽים׃ בָּזַז signifies to spoil or plunder.  For example, see Iliad 2:339.  Hebrew: וַיִּשְׁאַ֤ל שָׁאוּל֙ בֵּֽאלֹהִ֔ים הַֽאֵרֵד֙ אַחֲרֵ֣י פְלִשְׁתִּ֔ים הֲתִתְּנֵ֖ם בְּיַ֣ד יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְלֹ֥א עָנָ֖הוּ בַּיּ֥וֹם הַהֽוּא׃  See Leviticus 7:26, 27; 17:10-14.  Hebrew: וַיֹּ֣אמֶר שָׁא֔וּל גֹּ֣שֽׁוּ הֲלֹ֔ם כֹּ֖ל פִּנּ֣וֹת הָעָ֑ם וּדְע֣וּ וּרְא֔וּ בַּמָּ֗ה הָֽיְתָ֛ה הַחַטָּ֥את הַזֹּ֖את הַיּֽוֹם׃  Hebrew: פִּנּוֹת.  Judges 20:2: “And the chief (פִּנּוֹת) of all the people, evenof all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand footmen that drew sword.”  Hebrew: כִּ֣י חַי־יְהוָ֗ה הַמּוֹשִׁ֙יעַ֙ אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל כִּ֧י אִם־יֶשְׁנ֛וֹ בְּיוֹנָתָ֥ן בְּנִ֖י כִּ֣י מ֣וֹת יָמ֑וּת וְאֵ֥ין עֹנֵ֖הוּ מִכָּל־הָעָֽם׃  Hebrew: וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֶל־כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל אַתֶּם֙ תִּֽהְיוּ֙ לְעֵ֣בֶר אֶחָ֔ד וַֽאֲנִי֙ וְיוֹנָתָ֣ן בְּנִ֔י נִהְיֶ֖ה לְעֵ֣בֶר אֶחָ֑ד וַיֹּאמְר֤וּ הָעָם֙ אֶל־שָׁא֔וּל הַטּ֥וֹב בְּעֵינֶ֖יךָ עֲשֵֽׂה׃  Hebrew: וַיֹּ֣אמֶר שָׁא֗וּל אֶל־יְהוָ֛ה אֱלֹהֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל הָ֣בָה תָמִ֑ים וַיִּלָּכֵ֧ד יוֹנָתָ֛ן וְשָׁא֖וּל וְהָעָ֥ם יָצָֽאוּ׃  Hebrew: הָ֣בָה תָמִ֑ים.  Hebrew: יָצָאוּ.  That is, the use of a word or expression opposite to its proper meaning.  Deuteronomy 11:29: “And it shall come to pass, when the Lord thy God hath brought thee in unto the land whither thou goest to possess it, that thou shalt put (וְנָתַתָּה, that thou shalt give) the blessing upon mount Gerizim, and the curse upon mount Ebal.”  Hebrew: וַיֹּ֣אמֶר שָׁא֔וּל הַפִּ֕ילוּ בֵּינִ֕י וּבֵ֖ין יוֹנָתָ֣ן בְּנִ֑י וַיִּלָּכֵ֖ד יוֹנָתָֽן׃  Hebrew: וַיֹּ֤אמֶר שָׁאוּל֙ אֶל־י֣וֹנָתָ֔ן הַגִּ֥ידָה לִּ֖י מֶ֣ה עָשִׂ֑יתָה וַיַּגֶּד־ל֣וֹ יוֹנָתָ֗ן וַיֹּאמֶר֩ טָעֹ֙ם טָעַ֜מְתִּי בִּקְצֵ֙ה הַמַּטֶּ֧ה אֲשֶׁר־בְּיָדִ֛י מְעַ֥ט דְּבַ֖שׁ הִנְנִ֥י אָמֽוּת׃  Hebrew: וַיֹּ֣אמֶר שָׁא֔וּל כֹּֽה־יַעֲשֶׂ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים וְכֹ֣ה יוֹסִ֑ף כִּֽי־מ֥וֹת תָּמ֖וּת יוֹנָתָֽן׃  Hebrew: וַיֹּ֙אמֶר הָעָ֜ם אֶל־שָׁא֗וּל הֲֽיוֹנָתָ֤ן׀ יָמוּת֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָ֠שָׂה הַיְשׁוּעָ֙ה הַגְּדוֹלָ֣ה הַזֹּאת֮ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל֒ חָלִ֗ילָה חַי־יְהוָה֙ אִם־יִפֹּ֞ל מִשַּׂעֲרַ֤ת רֹאשׁוֹ֙ אַ֔רְצָה כִּֽי־עִם־אֱלֹהִ֥ים עָשָׂ֖ה הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וַיִּפְדּ֥וּ הָעָ֛ם אֶת־יוֹנָתָ֖ן וְלֹא־מֵֽת׃  Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus, an eventual consul, was magister equitum in 325 BC. Without the authority of the Dictator, Lucius Papirius Cursor, he won a daring victory over the Samnites, a people of south-central Italy, at Imbrinium. Papirius demanded of the Roman Senate that Fabius be punished. The Senate and people supported Fabius because of the victory, but had misgivings about undercutting the Dictator’s authority. At length, Fabius asked forgiveness of the Dictator, which was granted.  See 1 Corinthians 14:40.  Hebrew: וַיַּ֣עַל שָׁא֔וּל מֵאַחֲרֵ֖י פְּלִשְׁתִּ֑ים וּפְלִשְׁתִּ֖ים הָלְכ֥וּ לִמְקוֹמָֽם׃