Later that day, Jonathan, Saul's son, said to his armor bearer, "Come on, let's go over to the Philistine garrison patrol on the other side of the pass." But he didn't tell his father.
Meanwhile, Saul was taking it easy under the pomegranate tree at the threshing floor on the edge of town at Geba (Gibeah). There were about six hundred men with him.
Ahijah, wearing the priestly Ephod, was also there. (Ahijah was the son of Ahitub, brother of Ichabod, son of Phinehas, who was the son of Eli the priest of God at Shiloh.) No one there knew that Jonathan had gone off.
The pass that Jonathan was planning to cross over to the Philistine garrison was flanked on either side by sharp rock outcroppings, cliffs named Bozez and Seneh.
The cliff to the north faced Micmash; the cliff to the south faced Geba (Gibeah).
Jonathan said to his armor bearer, "Come on now, let's go across to these uncircumcised pagans. Maybe God will work for us. There's no rule that says God can only deliver by using a big army. No one can stop God from saving when he sets his mind to it."
His armor bearer said, "Go ahead. Do what you think best. I'm with you all the way."
Jonathan said, "Here's what we'll do. We'll cross over the pass and let the men see we're there.
If they say, 'Halt! Don't move until we check you out,' we'll stay put and not go up.
But if they say, 'Come on up,' we'll go right up - and we'll know God has given them to us. That will be our sign."
So they did it, the two of them. They stepped into the open where they could be seen by the Philistine garrison. The Philistines shouted out, "Look at that! The Hebrews are crawling out of their holes!"
Then they yelled down to Jonathan and his armor bearer, "Come on up here! We've got a thing or two to show you!"
Jonathan shouted to his armor bearer, "Up! Follow me! God has turned them over to Israel!" Jonathan scrambled up on all fours, his armor bearer right on his heels. When the Philistines came running up to them, he knocked them flat, his armor bearer right behind finishing them off, bashing their heads in with stones.
In this first bloody encounter, Jonathan and his armor bearer killed about twenty men.
That set off a terrific upheaval in both camp and field, the soldiers in the garrison and the raiding squad badly shaken up, the ground itself shuddering - panic like you've never seen before!
Saul's sentries posted back at Geba (Gibeah) in Benjamin saw the confusion and turmoil raging in the camp.
Saul commanded, "Line up and take the roll. See who's here and who's missing."
When they called the roll, Jonathan and his armor bearer turned up missing.
While Saul was in conversation with the priest, the upheaval in the Philistine camp became greater and louder. Then Saul interrupted Ahijah: "Put the Ephod away."
Saul immediately called his army together and they went straight to the battle. When they got there they found total confusion - Philistines swinging their swords wildly, killing each other.
Hebrews who had earlier defected to the Philistine camp came back. They now wanted to be with Israel under Saul and Jonathan.
Not only that, but when all the Israelites who had been hiding out in the backwoods of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were running for their lives, they came out and joined the chase.
God saved Israel! What a day! The fighting moved on to Beth Aven. The whole army was behind Saul now - ten thousand strong! - with the fighting scattering into all the towns throughout the hills of Ephraim.
Saul did something really foolish that day. He addressed the army: "A curse on the man who eats anything before evening, before I've wreacked vengeance on my enemies!" None of them ate a thing all day.
There were honeycombs here and there in the fields.
But no one so much as put his finger in the honey to taste it, for the soldiers to a man feared the curse.
But Jonathan hadn't heard his father put the army under oath. He stuck the tip of his staff into some honey and ate it. Refreshed, his eyes lit up with renewed vigor.
A soldier spoke up, "Your father has put the army under solemn oath, saying, 'A curse on the man who eats anything before evening!' No wonder the soldiers are drooping!"
Jonathan said, "My father has imperiled the country. Just look how quickly my energy has returned since I ate a little of this honey!
It would have been a lot better, believe me, if the soldiers had eaten their fill of whatever they took from the enemy. Who knows how much worse we could have whipped them!"
They killed Philistines that day all the way from Micmash to Aijalon, but the soldiers ended up totally exhausted.
Then they started plundering. They grabbed anything in sight - sheep, cattle, calves - and butchered it where they found it. Then they glutted themselves - meat, blood, the works.
Saul was told, "Do something! The soldiers are sinning against God. They're eating meat with the blood still in it!"
He continued, "Disperse among the troops and tell them, 'Bring your oxen and sheep to me and butcher them properly here. Then you can feast to your heart's content. Please don't sin against God by eating meat with the blood still in it.'" And so they did. That night each soldier, one after another, led his animal there to be butchered.
That's the story behind Saul's building an altar to God. It's the first altar to God that he built.
Saul said, "Let's go after the Philistines tonight! We can spend the night looting and plundering. We won't leave a single live Philistine!" "Sounds good to us," said the troops. "Let's do it!" But the priest slowed them down: "Let's find out what God thinks about this."
So Saul prayed to God, "Shall I go after the Philistines? Will you put them in Israel's hand?" God didn't answer him on that occasion.
Saul then said, "All army officers, step forward. Some sin has been committed this day. We're going to find out what it is and who did it!
As God lives, Israel's Savior God, whoever sinned will die, even if it should turn out to be Jonathan, my son!" Nobody said a word.
Saul said to the Israelites, "You line up over on that side, and I and Jonathan my son will stand on this side." The army agreed, "Fine. Whatever you say."
Then Saul prayed to God, "O God of Israel, why haven't you answered me today? Show me the truth. If the sin is in me or Jonathan, then, O God, give the sign Urim. But if the sin is in the army of Israel, give the sign Thummim." The Urim sign turned up and pointed to Saul and Jonathan. That cleared the army.
Next Saul said, "Cast the lots between me and Jonathan - and death to the one God points to!" The soldiers protested, "No - this is not right. Stop this!" But Saul pushed on anyway. They cast the lots, Urim and Thummim, and the lot fell to Jonathan.
Saul confronted Jonathan. "What did you do? Tell me!" Jonathan said, "I licked a bit of honey off the tip of the staff I was carrying. That's it - and for that I'm to die?"
Saul said, "Yes. Jonathan most certainly will die. It's out of my hands - I can't go against God, can I?"
The soldiers rose up: "Jonathan - die? Never! He's just carried out this stunning salvation victory for Israel. As surely as God lives, not a hair on his head is going to be harmed. Why, he's been working hand-in-hand with God all day!" The soldiers rescued Jonathan and he didn't die.
Saul pulled back from chasing the Philistines, and the Philistines went home.
Saul extended his rule, capturing neighboring kingdoms. He fought enemies on every front - Moab, Ammon, Edom, the king of Zobah, the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he came up with a victory.
He became invincible! He smashed Amalek, freeing Israel from the savagery and looting.
Saul's sons were Jonathan, Ishvi, and Malki-Shua. His daughters were Merab, the firstborn, and Michal, the younger.
Saul's wife was Ahinoam, daughter of Ahimaaz. Abner son of Ner was commander of Saul's army (Ner was Saul's uncle).
Kish, Saul's father, and Ner, Abner's father, were the sons of Abiel.
All through Saul's life there was war, bitter and relentless, with the Philistines. Saul conscripted every strong and brave man he laid eyes on.
Published by permission. Originally published by NavPress in English as THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language copyright 2002 by Eugene Peterson. All rights reserved. (The Message Bible Online)