Questions From Readers
▪ Did Jonathan lose God’s favor when he ate some honey after King Saul cursed any soldier who would eat before the fighting was over?
Saul’s rash oath brought Israel in line for a curse, but it does not appear that Jonathan merited Jehovah’s disfavor because of going contrary to the oath.
First Samuel 14:24-45 relates this incident. The Israelites, emboldened by Jonathan’s exploits, were fighting the enemy Philistines. King Saul said: “Cursed is the man that eats bread before the evening and until I have taken vengeance upon my enemies!” (1Sa 14 Verse 24) Unaware of his father’s oath, Jonathan energized himself by eating some honey. Other Israelite warriors, who were also worn out, sinned by slaughtering cattle and ravenously eating flesh that had not been drained of blood. Saul built an altar regarding that sin, but he did not know what his son had done.
When Saul sought God’s direction for pressing the battle, Jehovah would not reply. Through the use of the Thummim (perhaps involving sacred lots), Saul learned that his son had violated the ill-advised oath. But, really, how guilty was Jonathan?
Recall the king’s attitude when making the oath in the first place. He did not evidence a desire to honor God by a victory over the Philistines. Rather, Saul rashly spoke a curse on anyone eating “until I have taken vengeance upon my enemies!” Yes, the oath proceeded from such a misplaced view of kingly power or from a false zeal. That oath would not have God’s support. The oath was a factor in the Israelite warriors’ sin as to animal blood. If they had not been hampered by the oath, they might have been able to find food and so had the strength to pursue the Philistines until complete victory was won.
God did permit the use of the Thummim to determine that Jonathan had (in ignorance) violated Saul’s oath, but this does not mean that He approved of the rash oath. The account nowhere says that God viewed Jonathan as culpable. In fact, though Jonathan was willing to accept the consequence of breaking his father’s precipitate oath, circumstances were such that Jonathan’s life was spared. The Israelite soldiers said that Jonathan had accomplished his feats “with God,” and they somehow redeemed Jonathan. In the following years, it was Jonathan who continued to have Jehovah’s approval as Saul committed one error after another.
▪ How many judges, such as Samson and Gideon, were there?
When you count up the judges, the number you arrive at depends on how you view certain Israelites. But it can safely be said that 12 men served as judges between Joshua and Samuel.
During the days of Moses and Joshua, some older men in the congregation were judges in the sense that they were chosen to hear and decide legal cases. (Exodus 18:21, 22; Joshua 8:33; 23:2) After Joshua’s death, Israel fell away from true worship and came to be afflicted by other peoples. Judges 2:16 says: “So Jehovah would raise up judges, and they would save them out of the hand of their pillagers.” Jehovah first raised up as a judge, or ‘savior,’ the man named Othniel. (Judges 3:9) After that came Ehud, Shamgar, Barak, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, and Samson.
Aside from these 12, the Bible mentions Deborah, Eli, and Samuel in connection with judging. (Judges 4:4; 1 Samuel 4:16-18; 7:15, 16) However, Deborah is called first a prophetess, and she is linked with Judge Barak, who particularly took the lead in delivering the people from oppression. Similarly, Eli was principally a high priest, not a ‘savior’ who led Israel to freedom through battle. (Nehemiah 9:27) Hence, while Deborah and Eli had a role in judging Israel, there is reason not to list them with the 12 men who clearly and primarily were especially ‘raised up’ as judges. Acts 13:20 says that “judges [were given] until Samuel the prophet.” This limits what might be known as the period of the judges, and it shows why Samuel and his sons are usually not counted among the judges either.—1 Samuel 8:1.