Why did not Jonathan take on Goliath?

Many years ago I heard a sermon that touched on the story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17), but the preacher then asked the question as to why Jonathan, King Saul’s son and heir not fight Goliath? After all some years earlier Jonathan and his armour-bearer had taken on the whole Philistine army and routed them at Michmash (1 Samuel 14). According to this preacher he had lost his nerve. Now that is a good question it is just that the answer he arrived at was wrong. Even at that time I was not convinced by his reasoning but the more I have thought about over the years the more wrong it seemed. After all if Jonathan had lost his nerve then instead of becoming friends with David he would have resented his triumph. It is illogical. Like many a young prince over the centuries Jonathan liked his escapades of derring-do but Saul would have expected his son to stay alive long enough in order to succeed him as king. So I think it far more probable that Saul forbade Jonathan from taking on Goliath. All the more reason for Jonathan to identify Goliath’s victor as a man of his own heart. The irony is that in trying to ensure his son’s survival to succeed him he allowed the opportunity for the one whom Samuel had anointed as Saul’s successor to rise to prominence.
Even more ironic is that Saul was quite willing to kill Jonathan after the battle at Michmash. Let’s go back to the events at Michmash. Firstly we hear that Jonathan led a raid on a Philistine outpost. This angered the Philistines who mobilised their army. When Saul mobilised his forces, the Israelites saw that they were vastly outnumbered. Some deserted to the enemy and others melted away. Saul waited for Samuel to arrive to perform a sacrifice, but he was late showing up. The longer he delayed the more the morale of the Israelites fell. It was against this background that Jonathan thought to attack a small detachment of Philistines at the top of a pass. Accompanied by his armour-bearer he climbed the pass when the Philistines spotted him they called down to him to come up and fight which Jonathan took to be a sign that the Lord would give him victory. When they reached the top they killed the first Philistines that attacked them causing the remainder to run off. A panic set in the rest of the Philistine army and it began to melt away. This took Saul completely by surprise, he hurriedly performed his own sacrifice and sought to pursue the fleeing Philistines. He rashly told his men not to eat any food until the end of the day on pain of death. Nothing was to halt the pursuit of the enemy. The only problem was Jonathan knew nothing and ate some honey. When Saul found out he all for killing his son but the other Israelites persuaded him that it would be wrong to kill the person who was responsible for Israel’s victory. Those Israelites who had deserted to the Philistines turned their coats again and fell on their erstwhile allies. This would give the Philistine leaders suspicions towards other Israelites who purported to be on their side. Hence they did not trust David and refused to have him on their side least he betray them to Saul, so he and his men were told to return to Ziklag. The upshot of what happened at Michmash was that no further military adventures of Jonathan are recorded in Scripture. When Samuel had to pronounce that Saul had been rejected as king after he failed to obey the Lord’s commands concerning the Amalekites in 1 Samuel chapter 15 there is no mention of Jonathan being there.
Now when it came to Goliath’s challenge Saul and the rest of the Israelite army were without an answer. The obvious reason for Jonathan not taking up the challenge would be because Saul would not want to risk losing his heir. There might been a secondary reason at the back of Saul’s mind. We know he had been oppressed by an evil spirit from time to time, maybe it had suggested to Saul that Jonathan might usurp him. Jonathan had shown his fighting ability at Michmash and might have proved a worthy opponent for Goliath. If Jonathan had defeated Goliath then Saul might have seen this as a stepping-stone to the throne as later he would see David to be. Though I have to add that this is very speculative. Whatever reason it was that Saul was reluctant to let Jonathan have a go at Goliath we have to remember that in so doing he acted in the opposite way to God the Father who did not spare his Son in order to redeem us.
David Rose 2014.

About davidgrose

I am a Bible believing Christian, brought up in the Brethren Movement, and now find myself associating with charismatics even though I do not always agree with them. I am in full-time employment. I have interests in history and photography amongst others.
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