Friday, July 18, 2014

Jonathan as a type of Christ in 1 Samuel 14

I’ve written before about Jonathan’s bravery in 1 Samuel 14 in my post “The Intrepid Jonathan” back in 2009, however there is a strange story that happens after his exploits result in a victory for Israel.  In this strange story, Saul, Jonathan, and the Israelite army find themselves in an impossible and surreal situation and the best way we can find meaning in it is to see it as a type and shadow of Christ.  It’s not a perfect type, but it is good enough for us to recognize it once we come to the surreal part.

At the same time that Jonathan is doing his thing and wreaking mayhem among the Philistines, King Saul had sworn an oath that everyone should fast. 

And the men of Israel were distressed that day: for Saul had adjured the people, saying, Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening, that I may be avenged on mine enemies. So none of the people tasted any food. (1 Samuel 14:24)

Saul just says “Cursed be the man,” but you have to understand this means he will execute whoever breaks the oath. 

Jonathan’s success against the Philistines drew everyone into the battle and they had to try to mop things up while suffering from hunger.  Jonathan didn’t know everyone was fasting.  He probably wondered why everyone was so non-energetic.

25 And all they of the land came to a wood; and there was honey upon the ground.
26 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.
27 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.
28 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. (1 Sam 14:25-28)

The thing about oaths is that you can be sure you will find yourself in situations where they will be tested.  And in this story things are no different.  The very battlefield tests the people whether they will keep their oath.  Honey is dropping from the trees and they are all so tired and hungry.

Jonathan, not having heard the oath, naturally eats some honey.  And it is just enough that he has a sugar rush and gets some vigor back.  Then the people tell him about the oath his father made.  (I have to wonder why they didn’t tell him about it before he ate it..)

How does Jonathan react to hearing about the oath his father made and is holding his people to?

29 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.
30 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? (1 Sam 14:29-30)

Jonathan is pretty out-spoken and rather than supporting his father, he comes right out and says the oath was hurting Israel more than helping them and points out how much better the battle could have gone if Israel was in its full strength.

Well, we don’t know what the people thought about this, but the battle continues..

31 And they smote the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon: and the people were very faint.
32 And the people flew upon the spoil, and took sheep, and oxen, and calves, and slew them on the ground: and the people did eat them with the blood.  (1 Sam 14:31-32)

The next capture the people made, they go crazy taking spoil and killing the animals for food.  (Were they persuaded by Jonathan’s little speech previous?  Hard to know, but it could be..) However, they are so hungry they don’t take the time to properly bleed the animals they kill for food like they are supposed to do according to the Law of Moses.  So King Saul chastises them for it.

33 ¶Then they told Saul, saying, Behold, the people sin against the Lord, in that they eat with the blood. And he said, Ye have transgressed: roll a great stone unto me this day.
34 And Saul said, Disperse yourselves among the people, and say unto them, Bring me hither every man his ox, and every man his sheep, and slay them here, and eat; and sin not against the Lord in eating with the blood. And all the people brought every man his ox with him that night, and slew them there. (1 Samuel 14:33-34)

Whatever happened to concern for the oath about fasting?  That’s long gone.  Now King Saul is concerned they are eating the animal blood along with the animals.  He tries to slow it down by making a centralized place in their camp for the animals to be bled so that he can be sure they are not breaking the Law of Moses.

Now I want you to ask yourself a question about what you've read so far—who is more guilty, Jonathan or the people?  Keep this question in mind.

35 And Saul built an altar unto the Lord: the same was the first altar that he built unto the Lord.
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.
37 And Saul asked counsel of God, Shall I go down after the Philistines? wilt thou deliver them into the hand of Israel? But he answered him not that day.
38 And Saul said, Draw ye near hither, all the chief of the people: and know and see wherein this sin hath been this day. (1 Samuel 14:35-38)

Saul wants to start another expedition against the Philistines on a night attack, and the people were for it, but the priest was determined to ask God.  It’s a good idea to ask God before starting a project, right?

But what do you do when you don’t get an answer?

Saul didn’t get an answer, and thereby he concluded that there had been some kind of sin in the camp of Israel that prevented revelation from coming.

What do you think all the people are thinking at this point?  Maybe something like, “Yeah, I sinned…”

Listen to what Saul says next.. 

39 For, 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.

King Saul makes another oath that the person in the army who sinned is going to die, even if it was Jonathan his own son.

What do you think all the people are thinking at this point?  Maybe something like, “Oh shoot, we all did something wrong…the king would kill me if he knew I was part of it..”

But no one says anything because they know everyone is guilty. By Saul’s oath everyone would die.  No one wants to be the first one to step forward and admit guilt.

Saul has to use a method of drawing lots to determine where the guilt lies. 

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.

The people just seem shell-shocked.  They don’t try to stand in the way, but they aren’t going to step forward and hurry their doom along.  They are suddenly passive.  They seem to accept death is inevitable.

41 Therefore Saul said unto the Lord God of Israel, Give a perfect lot. And Saul and Jonathan were taken: but the people escaped.

Now, remember, the people were guilty.  But somehow the lot didn’t fall on them.  They escaped.  This must have caused them to wonder, “What is going on here?”

King Saul keeps going.

42 And Saul said, Cast lots between me and Jonathan my son. And Jonathan was taken.
43 Then Saul said to Jonathan, Tell me what thou hast done. And Jonathan told him, and said, I did but taste a little honey with the end of the rod that was in mine hand, and, lo, I must die.
44 And Saul answered, God do so and more also: for thou shalt surely die, Jonathan. (1 Samuel 14:42-44)

The lot falls on Jonathan.  And Jonathan admits that he tasted some honey and he seems to accept that he is going to have to die.  Saul agrees.  When Saul says, “God do so and more also” it is yet another oath meaning, “God do to me what should happen to you and worse if I don’t kill you.”  (Saul seems to really like making oaths, huh?)

Isn’t this a surreal situation?  It’s totally messed up, and it happened because Saul’s tendency to make oaths got him deeper and deeper into it until he is faced with the prospect of executing his son in order to maintain his credibility as a king.

Now think about the levels of guilt in this story.  Jonathan acknowledged that he ate some honey when he wasn’t supposed to.  But he didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to until afterward, so technically he wasn’t guilty at all.  But the rest of the army was more guilty because they not only broke King Saul’s command about fasting, but they also ate animal blood and thereby broke the Law of Moses.  They were all worthy of death.

So here’s where we can start to see a type of Christ.  Jonathan’s guilt was far less then the people’s, and yet he was chosen (by God) as the scapegoat for the whole army.  Christ was sinless and all the rest of us are guilty and worthy of death, yet Christ allowed himself to be punished in order that we might escape.

“But,” you might say, “the people probably wouldn’t have eaten at all if it hadn’t been for Jonathan’s little harangue about the way Saul was troubling the land.”  Yes, this is not a perfect type of Christ because Christ did not cause everyone (or anyone) to sin or teach them that Heavenly Father’s commands are troublesome in any way.

However, Jonathan wasn’t responsible for the people’s decision to eat blood, and he was made a scapegoat for those sins to show how Christ would take on Himself the sins of all the world.  

Jonathan is in an weird place—he’s saved the people in battle and is going to be killed so they can escape their disobedience.  And he seems willing to do it.  Seeing it as a type of Christ helps us find higher meaning in this story. 

So how is the dilemma solved?  The people step in and save Jonathan.

45 And the people said unto Saul, Shall Jonathan die, who hath wrought this great salvation in Israel? God forbid: 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. (1 Samuel 14:45)


Obviously that rescue was not part of the type of Christ, but it got both Saul and Jonathan out of their sticky situation.  It is as if the people say, "Enough with these stupid oaths already!"

On a side note, I think King Saul learned from this experience not to make so many strong oaths with the death penalty attached. (He still makes a few and breaks them, but there's not so many after this point.) Unfortunately, it may have also made him afraid of going against the voice of the people, which got him in further trouble later when he was charged with destroying the Amalekites and the people wanted to save the best of the animals to sacrifice. This incident may have led to him caving to their demands then too.

I used to think this story was really weird, but I appreciate it more now because of being able to see how Jonathan prefigured Christ.  It helps remind me that I am one of that army of Israel who has been disobedient and yet I can escape the penalty for my sins because of Christ's suffering in my place.  

I’m loving reading the Old Testament this year.  I’m finding types of Christ where I never saw them before.  How about you?