Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Jonathan & Redemption

Within the story of King Saul, we come upon the story of another person, a deliverer of sorts, whose story embodies the exile and exodus theme in a number of ways.  This deliverer is Saul’s son, Jonathan.  We are quickly introduced to Jonathan within the presentation of a circumstance regarding the weaponry of Israel.  We read that “A blacksmith could not be found in all the land of Israel, for the Philistines had said, ‘This will prevent the Hebrews from making swords and spears.’  So all Israel had to go down to the Philistines in order to get their plowshares, cutting instruments, axes, and sickles sharpened” (1 Samuel 13:19-20).  So even though Israel, at this time, is not in subjugation to the Philistines, it is a tenuous situation in which there are still conflicts in which the Philistines had an obvious advantage related to something that they had put in place during their time in which they had held Israel in subjugation.  Here we see a remnant of Israel’s exile, in that “on the day of the battle no sword or spear was to be found in the hand of anyone in the army that was with Saul and Jonathan.  No one but Saul and Jonathan had them” (13:22). 

This is our introduction to Jonathan, and it immediately paints him, along with his father, in the light of deliverers of Israel.  Indeed, the next chapter picks up on that very theme, informing us that “one day Jonathan son of Saul said to his armor bearer, ‘Come on, let’s go over to the Philistine garrison that is opposite us’.” (14:1a)  A short while later we hear Jonathan again, saying “Come on, let’s go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised men.  Perhaps the Lord will intervene for us.  Nothing can prevent the Lord from delivering, whether by many or by few”  (14:6).  With these words, Jonathan speaks the language of exile and exodus, as the use of “delivering” speaks to something from which to be delivered.  Clearly, Jonathan had in mind being used in the role of deliverer, and that through him, the Lord might bring to an end the ongoing attempts by the Philistines to re-subjugate Israel. 

When Jonathan, along with his armor bearer, show themselves to the Philistines, we hear them (the Philistines) say, “Look!  The Hebrews are coming out of the holes in which they hid themselves” (14:11b), which reminds us of Gideon, and his threshing of wheat within a winepress, so as to be hidden from the Midianites, and of God’s reaching down into that winepress to bring Gideon forth as a deliverer for Israel.  We go on to read that “Jonathan struck down the Philistines,” such that “fear overwhelmed those who were in the camp,” and that “This fear was caused by God” (14:13b,15a,c).  Amazingly, God was still fighting Israel’s battles, even though the people had previously said, when asking for a king, that “Our king will judge us and lead us and fight our battles” (8:20b).  In the end, though they had a human king, their King was still fighting on their behalf. 

The events that were brought to pass as a result of Jonathan’s going up against this smaller group of Philistines resulted in the fact that “the Lord delivered Israel that day” (14:23a).  Yes, exodus was brought forth from exile.  Continuing on in the story of Jonathan as deliverer, we are immediately informed, following this deliverance, that “Saul had made the army agree to this oath: ‘Cursed be the man who eats food before evening!’… So no one in the army ate anything” (14:24b,d).  Unfortunately, “Jonathan had not heard about the oath his father had made the army take.  He extended the end of his staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb.  When he ate it, his eyes gleamed” (14:27).  It was not until after he had eaten, that “someone from the army informed him, ‘Your father put the army under a strict oath…’” (14:28a) in regards to eating food.  Jonathan was, to put it mildly, a bit irritated at the words of his father, bemoaning the fact that the deliverance wrought by the hand of the Lord could have been greater “if the army had eaten some of the provisions,” saying that “the slaughter of the Philistines would have been even greater” (14:30a,c).  Hearing that, the men with Jonathan all began to eat in a wild and unrestrained way (pointing out the folly of some unnecessary and ungodly restraints), which caused Saul to become angry, saying “All of you have broken the covenant!” (14:33b). 

Saul resolves that he will get to the bottom of this situation, saying that even if the violation of the covenant occurred because of the actions of his very own son, “he will certainly die” (14:39).  Saul undertakes a process that eventually reveals that Jonathan was, in fact, responsible for the widespread violation of Saul’s oath, to which Saul responds, “God will punish me severely if Jonathan doesn’t die!” (14:44)  This made no sense to the army, seeing as how, regardless of the violation of Saul’s oath, deliverance had only come about because of Jonathan’s bold actions.  They said, “Should Jonathan, who won this great victory in Israel, die?  May it never be!  As surely as the Lord lives, not a single hair of his head will fall to the ground!  For it is with the help of God that he has acted today” (14:45a).  It is said that “the army rescued Jonathan from death” (14:45b).  In a strange turn of events, the delivered becomes the deliverer, interceding on behalf of Jonathan to deliver him from the exile of death that has been pronounced against him by his very own father.  In that day, both Israel and its representative deliverer experience an exodus---Israel from possible subjugation by Philistia, and Jonathan from possible subjugation at the hands of Saul. 

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