Do you sometimes find when you read a passage of Scripture and somebody says something that there is something wrong with the logic used? True, none of the writers of the books of the Bible ever attended a Greek school of philosophy to learn logic. Usually it is often down to our lack of knowledge of the context in which statements are made. In 1 Samuel chapter 14 Jonathan and his armour-bearer attacked a Philistine outpost, when his father’s army was melting away, resulting in an unexpected victory. Jonathan said “If they say to us ‘Come up to us,’ we will climb up, because that will be the sign the Lord has given them into our hands.” This begs the question why did Jonathan come to that conclusion? I mean after climbing up such a steep slope would take a great effort regardless how fit Jonathan was and he would have been vulnerable when he reached the top as he was using his arms and legs to climb he would not have been holding a weapon. Why did not the Philistines kill him before he was ready to fight? First we must look at the historical context. This took place when the world was in the transition from the bronze age to the iron age. The Philistines were very much in the iron age but Israel was largely in the bronze age. Israelites a high price to sharpen any iron tools or weapons. Many Israelites deserted to the Philistines, others hid, because a bronze sword left one effectively weapon-less when faced with soldiers armed with steel bladed swords. So one would have expected that the Philistines would have been ready to cut down Jonathan and his armour-bearer. But there is a clue in verse 21 where it says “those Hebrews who had previously been with the Philistines and had gone up with them to their camp went over to the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan.” The Philistines must have assumed that Jonathan was deserting even though they talked about teaching them a lesson they would not have been ready for a fight. Complacency had probably come over the Philistine army and only those on sentry duty may have wearing their full armour. So once Jonathan had taken them by surprise by actually fighting and taking out his immediate opponents the next enemy soldiers he met would have been less well armed and armoured. Much of the Philistine army would have been having a siesta in the heat of the day. The account in 1 Samuel states that some 20 men fell in an area of about half an acre, which is relatively small, but not too confined, to suggest that the fighting moved about, but which also hints that the initial reception committee was not too large, that is, a lot less than the 20 killed. At which point the rot appears to have set in. Whether some of those Israelites who had gone over to the Philistines had recognised Jonathan and joined him directly giving the impression that the attacking force was greater than it was is not clear. But the memory of this incident would have an echo in later years because it was because of the fear of David’s men changing sides that they were sent back to Ziklag and thus not being present at the death of Saul.
So it could have been that even though things were bad for the Israelites, Jonathan might have also noted that the number of sentries guarding the Philistine outpost declined as the stalemate continued. Thus seeing a potential opportunity for an attack, perhaps he thought he might just kill a few sentries and return back to his lines before the rest of the Philistines reacted. But instead a rout occurred. It might appear to us as a suicide mission but that is not to say that Jonathan thought that way. It is always dangerous to make assumptions.
David Rose, 2016.