Recently our freshman college students studied the Gospel narratives of Passion Week. To begin our discussion I had us look at 1 Samuel 14. In the context, the Israelites are at war with the Philistines. Jonathan and his armor-bearer have secretly set out to attack the enemy garrison while Saul and six hundred men cower in a cave at Migron (14:2–3). The Lord grants Jonathan and his armor-bearer success, and the Philistine camp falls into confusion. Saul, ever the opportunist, seeing that victory is at hand,
leads his men into the fray. To motivate the Israelites to finish what they started, he imposes on them a rash and self-serving oath: “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies” (14:24).
The Israelites obey. However, Jonathan is unaware of his father’s oath and eats some honey while walking through the forest (14:27). Saul, after learning what Jonathan has done, is resolved to put his son to death. Jonathan willingly submits to his fate, as unjust as it is. But the Israelites step in and protest: “Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the Lord lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” The text continues: “So the people ransomed Jonathan, so that he did not die” (14:45).
After reading this narrative, I asked the students to reflect on the similarities and differences between the redemption Jonathan experienced with the redemption we have experienced in Christ. First, the similarities.
We’ll take our point of departure from the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. Because we have all sinned in Adam (Rom 5:12–21), any description of the first couple’s transgression will contain, by implication, a description of our own state.
- Both Jonathan’s situation and our own involved an oath. Jonathan was under obligation not to eat any food until evening. Our parents, Adam and Eve, were under command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (1 Sam 14:24, 28; Gen 2:16–17)
- In both situations, the oath was broken. Jonathan tasted honey; Eve took the forbidden fruit, ate it, and gave some to her husband. (1 Sam 14:27; Gen 3:6)
- The consequence of breaking this oath, in both cases, was death. (1 Sam 14:44; Gen 2:17)
- Neither Jonathan nor our first parents took the initiative in revealing their transgression. (1 Sam 14:38–39; Gen 3:8–13)
- For both Jonathan and for Adam and Eve, the promised death was averted through a ransom. The text in 1 Samuel doesn’t say what kind of ransom the people provided for Jonathan (1 Sam 14:45), but Adam and Eve were delivered initially by the blood of an animal (see Gen 3:21). Presumably, this deliverance was bound up with God’s promise that one day the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent’s seed (Gen 3:15).
Now, the differences. It’s in the differences, I think, that the work of Christ shines most brightly:
- Whereas Saul’s command was foolish and self-serving, God’s command to Adam and Eve was wise and loving. (1 Sam 14:29–30; see Gen 2:15–16)
- Jonathan transgressed the oath out of ignorance. Adam and Eve sinned knowingly. (1 Sam 14:27; Gen 3:1–6)
- Even though Jonathan broke Saul’s oath unknowingly, he was still willing to accept the consequence of death. Our first parents, however, sinned with a high hand and wanted nothing to do with the consequences. In fact, they tried to weasel out of their guilt by shifting the blame elsewhere. (1 Sam 14:43; Gen 3:8–13)
- The Israelites ransomed Jonathan out of respect for his contributions to their welfare. In their eyes, Jonathan had “worked this great salvation in Israel” (1 Sam 14:45). Adam and Eve were turncoats and cowards—more like the Philistines, if you’ll permit the anachronism, than two intrepid Israelites (Gen 3:8).
- In Jonathan’s case, the people provided a ransom to satisfy Saul’s demands. In our case, however, God—the offended party—took it upon himself to provide our ransom. And this ransom was no light thing. It was purchased with the blood of his own Son. (1 Sam 14:45; Gen 3:21; 1 Pet 1:18–19)
When we think about Jonathan’s deliverance and our own, I think we can see more clearly what Paul had in mind in Romans 5:7–8: “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Rejoicing with you in our great deliverance,
Instructor of Theology and Christian Worldview
Bethlehem College & Seminary
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Prayer Requests …
- Pray that as Holy Week approaches, our faculty, staff, and students would experience a fresh awareness of the wonder of Christ’s death and resurrection.
- Pray that Spring Break would be a time of refreshment and renewal for everyone in our community.
- Pray that God would continue to provide for our financial needs.
- Pray that God would give our administrators great wisdom as they make important plans for the coming academic year.