Contrast of Characters

I Samuel 14

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
August 2020

I Samuel 14 is a story of two men.  It is the tale of two men. These men are different.  They were polar opposites.  They were in the same family but were very different.  You can have two people in the same family who are very different.  You can have a brother and sister or two brothers or two sisters that are very different.  One usually takes after the father and one takes after the mother, at least that is the way it was in our family. In this case, the two people who are different are father and son.

How differently can there be? In many cases, there are not only personality differences but spiritual differences between family members. You can have sheep and goats in the same family.  Saul and Jonathon were very different.  One was godly and one was ungodly.  One of these men was wise and one was foolish.  You would expect the old one to be wise and the young one to act like a fool, like many young people do today, but in this case, the young one was wise and the old one was a fool. 

This whole chapter is a study in contrasts.  We are going to look at the spirit and Jonathon and the spirit of Saul.  Which spirit are you? Are you more like Jonathon or are you more like Saul?  Are you more like the father or are you more like the son? 

The Spirit of Jonathon

First, let’s look at the son.  The whole first part of the chapter focuses on Jonathon.  Jonathon was one of the most amazing men of the OT.  We call him Jonathon in English.  He never heard of that name.  His name in Hebrew is Yo-nah-ton.

Jonathon was the son of Saul.  He was not Saul’s only son.  Saul had a lot of children.  He had a wife (I Samuel 14:50) and he had a concubine (II Samuel 3:7).  I Samuel 14:49 mentions three of his sons (Jonathan, Ishvi and Malki-Shua) and two of his daughters (Merab and Michal).  He had another son from his wife mentioned in II Samuel 2:8 (Ishbosheth).  He had four sons from his wife and he also had two sons from a concubine (Ii Samuel 21:8).

Saul had at least six sons, but Jonathon was Saul’s oldest son.  That made him a prince.  He would have been heir to the throne.  He was Prince Jonathon.  Jonathon was not just a prince but also a soldier.  He was a brave soldier.  He is out fighting the Philistines in battle.  In fact, he and two of his other brothers, all die fighting the Philistines in battle at the end of the book.

What do we know about Jonathon?  He is one of the godliest men in the Bible. We usually do not think of rough soldiers as very spiritual.  We do not think of too many military men as being spiritually sensitive.  We don’t think of fighters as having a soft heart, but Jonathon was.  This one soldier was full of incredible faith.  He would have made a great king, although he never became king. 

Jonathon is the hero of the chapter.  He is the one who defeats the Philistines.  The great general in this chapter is not Saul but Jonathon. Was he perfect? No. Jonathon sins in this chapter. He gets in big trouble.  He almost lost his life.  He almost died for doing something that he did not even know was wrong.

Jonathon is a lesson on the incredible power of faith.  Jonathon is young.  He does something that is bold, daring, audacious and even dangerous but God works a miracle because of his incredible faith.  This chapter shows what one man can do with God.  It shows the power of one or in this case two (Jonathon and his armor-bearer).

Daniel 11:32 says, “The people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits” (NKJV)

With God, simple, ordinary, uneducated believers can do extraordinary things that they did not think were possible. The Bible is full of example of people who did them, like David killing Goliath. Jonathon did great exploits in I Samuel 14.  The missionary William Carey said, “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.” 

The cool thing about Jonathon is that he did not come from a really spiritual home.  His dad was not too godly.  In fact, he did not have the best father.  He was a little cold and distant, willing to kill his own son (“off with your head”).  He was not a very loving father.  The army seemed to love Jonathon more than his dad did in this chapter.

You do not have to come from a great home to be used by God.  You do not have to come from a great home to be to do great things for God.  You do not have to come from a great home to have great faith in God. 

The great prophet Samuel did not have a son like Jonathon.  He had two two boys (Joel and Abijah) and they were both wicked but Saul, who was not spiritual at all, had a godly son, one of the most spiritual men in the OT.  As we said before, godliness is not genetic.

Let’s look at what Jonathon did, what he did not do, how he did it, why he did it and what happened as a result. 

One day Jonathan son of Saul said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side.” But he did not tell his father. Saul was staying on the outskirts of Gibeah under a pomegranate tree in Migron. With him were about six hundred men, 3 among whom was Ahijah, who was wearing an ephod. He was a son of Ichabod’s brother Ahitub son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the Lord’s priest in Shiloh. No one was aware that Jonathan had left. (I Samuel 14:1-3 NIV).

What was the plan?  The plan was to attack a Philistine garrison with just one other person, his armor bearer.  The plan was to attack it singlehandedly without any backup.  This was a two-person assault. 

What was an armor bearer?  It was someone who carried a soldier’s weapons into battle.  He would have carried Jonathon’s giant sword.  He would have gone right into the front lines of battle.  In golf, he would have been like a caddy.  David later became King Saul’s armor bearer (I Samuel 16:21). 

What doesn’t he do?  He does not tell his dad.  He does not tell the king or anyone else (I Samuel 14:1, 3).  This was a secret mission.  Why does he not tell anyone?  Probably because he knows that they would not support him.  We need to be careful who you tell certain things to.  Jesus said not to cast your pearls before swine. He did tell his armor bearer. He was completely supportive.

The armor bearer could have been negative.  He could have been pessimistic.  He could have been critical. he could have been judgmental.  He could have said, “You have got to be crazy for two men to attack a military garrison without any backup at all.  That is not good military strategy.  We don’t stand a chance.  The odds are against us.  You are going to get us both killed.” 

Instead, the armor-bearer said, “Do all that you have in mind,” his armor-bearer said” (I Samuel 14:7 NIV). Not only “DO it” but “do ALL of it.  Do the entire plan.”  Then, he says, “GO AHEAD; I am WITH you heart and soul.” (I Samuel 14:7 NIV). Wouldn’t it be cool if we had people in our life like this armor-bearer?  Wouldn’t it be cool if we could support other people like this armor-bearer?

Why did Jonathon want to do this in the first place?  Jonathon had a promise.  Samuel told Saul that “he will deliver them from the hand of the Philistines.  I have looked on my people, for their cry has reached me” (I Samuel 9:16 NIV).  There is no sign that Saul believed this promise, but Jonathon did.  He took it seriously.  Some Christians take the Bible seriously and believe everything it says.  Others, not so much.  Jonathon knew another promise.

One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the LORD your God who fights for you, just as he promised you. (Joshua 23:10 ESV)

Jonathon not only knew his Bible.  He also knew the power of God.  He said, “Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few” (I Samuel 14:6 NIV).  Jonathon believed that God could use two men just as much as he could use an entire army.  He did not have many troops, but it didn’t matter.  God can work when things are completely hopeless.  He has no limitations.  He can use you just as much as he can use Billy Graham or D.L. Moody.

Jonathon was a lot like us.  He thought he knew the will of God but he wasn’t exactly sure. Have you ever wanted to do something but you didn’t know if it was God’s will? 

Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. PERHAPS the Lord will act in our behalf.” (I Samuel 14:6 NIV)

Nothing is impossible with God.  With God all things are possible.  There is nothing God cannot do.  He believed that God COULD work regardless of the numbers. But he does NOT presume to know the secret will of God. He knows what God CAN do but he does NOT know what he will do.   He had no guarantee.  Jonathon believed in the POWER of God to do what Jonathon prayed.  He also believed in the FREEDOM of God to do something else.

This goes against the grain of some teaching in some churches.  It teaches that faith is NOT believing that God can; it is KNOWING that He will.  It teaches that we should just make things happen by DECLARING that that they should happen and then claim victory. Jonathon did not do that.  He dictate to God and try to force God to do his will. True faith does not tell God what to do but submits to His will. 

Jonathon knew the will of God generally but not specifically.  He was looking for the specific will of God, so he devised a sign.  He had to devise a sign to determine the will of God.

Jonathon acts very similar to the way Gideon did in Judges 6-7.  It is not identical.  It is a little different.  Gideon attacked the Midianites by surprise at night.  Jonathon’s attack was not a surprise but notice the similarities. 

Gideon went into the camp of the Midianites with just one servant.  He designed a fleece to determine the will of God.  They are thrown into a panic.  They fight one another and then reinforcements come. The exact same thing happens in this chapter. 

Jonathan said, “Come on, then; we will cross over toward them and let them see us. 9 If they say to us, ‘Wait there until we come to you,’ we will stay where we are and not go up to them. 10 But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ we will climb up, because that will be our sign that the Lord has given them into our hands.” (I Samuel 14:8-10 NIV)

What Jonathon does is that we often do.  We often do not know the specific will of God.  If this happens, we will respond this way.  If that happens, we will get a different message from God.  What was Jonathon’s sign?  The response of the Philistines to their action would be the sign.  If they say come up, we have a green light to go and God will be with us. 

So both of them showed themselves to the Philistine outpost. “Look!” said the Philistines. “The Hebrews are crawling out of the holes they were hiding in.” 12 The men of the outpost shouted to Jonathan and his armor-bearer, “Come up to us and we’ll teach you a lesson.”  So Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Climb up after me; the Lord HAS given them into the hand of Israel.”

When they said the words “come on up,” then Jonathon KNEW that he would be successful.  Jonathon and his armor bearer do some rock climbing.  They climb up a steep cliff on their hands and knees.  They climb up some sharp rocks and when they get to the top, the fight the Philistines.  They were completely outnumbered ten-to-one.  Geography was against them.  Numbers were against them but one by one they killed all of the Philistines. God gave the Philistines into the hands of Jonathon and his armor bearer.

The victory led to panic in the camp and it led to an earthquake (I Samuel 14:15).  The ground shook.  Saul and his army saw the confusion.  They found the Philistines in total confusion, striking each other with their swords. (I Samuel 14:20 NIV). 

That led to more people wanting to fight.  Saul originally had three thousand men but was down to six hundred.  Now everyone wanted to fight, because the enemy is in disarray.  Everyone always wants to be on the winning team.  Morale went up.

When all the Israelites who had hidden in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were on the run, they joined the battle in hot pursuit. 23 So on that day the Lord saved Israel, and the battle moved on beyond Beth Aven. (I Samuel 14:22-23 NIV)

Jonathon saw God work a miracle on his behalf.  What was the spirit of this young man Jonathon? 

1) Jonathon had the SPIRIT OF COURAGE. 

Jonathon was the king’s son, but he does not act like a pampered prince but a brave soldier.  He was fearless in battle.  He was not afraid of the Philistines.  He was not afraid to be in a dangerous situation.  This was the second time Jonathon did this (cf. I Samuel 13:3)

2) Jonathon had THE SPIRIT OF FAITH. 

This man was full of faith.  He was a man who believed the Word of God and took it seriously and trusted God to act on His behalf in some way.  He did not always know how but he took a step of faith.  He was a man who was not afraid to take some risks and step out on his own for God. 


Jonathon knew the promises of God and felt compelled to take action, decisive action.  He could not sit still.  He was tired of sitting, waiting and doing nothing.  He wanted to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.  He was not just a man of faith; he was a man of actions.  Some people love to argue about things but won’t do anything. They are all talk.

Jonathon was not just a man of faith.  He was a man of works.  Jonathon starts fighting the Philistines first.  He is the one out confronting the enemy.  He is the one taking the initiative.  Jonathon, not Saul, was the real general.  How many of us are like Jonathon? How many of us have his spirit?

The Spirit of Saul

The second half of the chapter focuses on Saul. What do we learn about the character of Saul from this chapter?  Saul had a completely different spirit in him.


Saul was staying on the outskirts of Gibeah under a pomegranate tree in Migron. With him were about six hundred men, among whom was Ahijah, who was wearing an ephod. He was a son of Ichabod’s brother Ahitub son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the Lord’s priest in Shiloh. (I Samuel 14:2-3 NIV)

What is Saul doing?  He is at home resting under a pomegranate tree, like he is on vacation.  He is taking it easy, instead of going to battle.  He is not leading.  He is passive. He is indecisive. He is not doing anything. He is sitting on his hands. He only decides to fight them once he sees that they are on the run.  Then it is easy.  Saul is not leading. He is following. 

Instead of being full of faith, he is full of fear.  That was his first mistake.  Many Christians today have a spirit of fear.  In fact, COVID-19 had given them a spirit of fear.  Many churches have a spirit of fear. They dare not open their doors. God has not given us a spirit of fear (II Timothy 1:7). That does not come from God.


He was also hanging out with the wrong people in Gibeah.  He is with his troops, but he is also hanging out with a priest from the line of Phineas.  God completely rejected that line.  Eli the priest was killed and so were his two sons on the same day.  God was through with them and yet Saul is still hanging out with them.

Many Christians today have a spirit of compromise.  It is one thing to compromise on political issues.  Politicians have to make deals with the other side to get what they want.  It is another thing to compromise on moral issues.

How did Saul compromise?  He spent time with the wrong people.  For some preachers, this is not possible.  Jesus hung out with prostitutes and sinners.  If he hung out with prostitutes, we can hang out with anyone.  Are they right? Yes and No.

We should minister to anyone and everyone but there is a difference between ministry and close fellowship.  The Bible talks about all kinds of people you should not fellowship with or should avoid. this is not preached from the pulpit too much today.

Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evildoers.  Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way. (Proverbs 4:14-15 NIV)

Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house. (Proverbs 5:8 NIV)

He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will be destroyed. (Proverbs 13:20 NKJV)

Stay away from a fool, for you will not find knowledge on their lips. (Proverbs 14:7 NIV)

Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags. (Proverbs 23:20-21 NIV)

You say, “I got that. I don’t go to the bars. I don’t spend time with hookers.”  The Bible actually goes beyond this.  Did you know that there are some professing Christians that you are not to associate with either?  You don’t hear this too much in church.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people (I Corinthians 5:9-11 NIV)


Now the Israelites were in distress that day, because Saul had bound the people under an oath, saying, “Cursed be anyone who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!” So none of the troops tasted food. 25 The entire army entered the woods, and there was honey on the ground. (I Samuel 14:24-25 NIV)

In the heat of battle, Saul commands his troops to fast for twenty-four hours (I Samuel 14:24).  He does not just say that you must fast.  He says that you will die if you eat food.  He made it a crime punishable by death.  As hungry as they are, when they actually see food in front of their eyes, like some honey in the woods, they can’t eat it, because if they eat it, they will die.  They struck down the Philistines from Mickmash to Aijalon (I Samuel 14:31 NIV). Biblical scholars tell us that this is about fifteen miles.

Saul’s army travels fifteen miles and fight the Philistines on an empty stomach.  That is just stupid.  Bad government always hurts people.  In addition to being at the wrong place with the wrong people, he is making the wrong decisions.  He made decisions that hurt his troops and put his own’s son’s life in jeopardy.  God did not tell them to do this.  Saul did.

This rule was completely unnecessary.  It was irrational.  It was counter-productive.  Some churches do the same thing.  There’s nothing wrong with rules but many we do not need rules that are unbiblical.  We don’t need rules that are stricter than the Bible.  We don’t need rules that bind people’s consciences.  We don’t need rules that cause people to sin. 

Many Christians have a spirit of legalism.  They are very legalistic.  Many churches are legalistic.  Many have silly, legalistic rules that are stricter than Scripture.  Some churches say that if want to go into the ministry, you cannot get married.  You have to be single.  Does the Bible say that?  No but that does not stop churches from believing it.  There are plenty of other churches with other silly rules.

What happens when you have churches that are legalistic?  What happens when parents are extra harsh on their kids?  They rebel.  If you go too far to one extreme, that just sends people to the other extreme.  That is what happened here.  When leaders are too strict and too oppressive, they encourage people to sin.

No one could eat and when they finally are allowed to eat, they are so hungry that they will eat absolutely anything.  They don’t have time to drain out all of the blood of animals, like Levitical Law said to do and they end up violating Scripture.


Saul starts out with a foolish vow and follows it a foolish punishment.  The decree said that no one could eat for twenty-four hours but the punishment for breaking that decree was death.  That does not seem fair.  If someone is hungry and tries to eat some food, Saul wants to kill him. 

Then, Saul takes it one step further.  He says that anyone who eats will be killed, even if he eats in ignorance and even if it is his own son.  Jonathon ate out of complete ignorance.  He did not even know about Saul’s decree.  He was out fighting the Philistines when Saul gave this rule but still wants to kill him.  As surely as the Lord who rescues Israel lives, even if the guilt lies with my son Jonathan, he must die.” (I Samuel 14:39 NIV)

If you are completely hardheaded and stubborn and inflexible and proud, you are like King Saul.  He said what he said and he was not going to change his mind.  Saul wanted to kill Jonathon but the whole army came to his defense.  At the beginning of the chapter, Jonathon delivered Israel.  At the end of the chapter, Israel delivered Jonathon.

But the men said to Saul, “Should Jonathan die—he who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Never! As surely as the Lord lives, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground, for he did this today with God’s help.” So the men rescued Jonathan, and he was not put to death. (I Samuel 14:45 NIV)

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