Oct 122010

Jonathan and his armour bearer climbing to attack the Philistines

In Samuel 1, 13 & 14, there is a fascinating little story about Saul’s son Jonathan. The Philistines are attacking and it is suddenly the case that there are no blacksmiths amongst the Israelites. The Israelites have to go to the Philistines even to get their axes, mattocks and ploughshares sharpened (didn’t anyone think about this ahead of time?). So Saul gathers his more or less weaponless army and hangs around wondering what to do. Jonathan, his son (who does have weapons), goes berserk (or a reasonable facsimile) and attacks the Philistine all by himself except for his faithful armour bearer who tags along. They climb a cliff to get to the Philistine host and fall upon it, killing twenty men right away.

014:011 And both of them discovered themselves unto the garrison of
the Philistines: and the Philistines said, Behold, the Hebrews
come forth out of the holes where they had hid themselves.

014:012 And the men of the garrison answered Jonathan and his
armourbearer, and said, Come up to us, and we will shew you a
thing. And Jonathan said unto his armourbearer, Come up after
me: for the LORD hath delivered them into the hand of Israel.

014:013 And Jonathan climbed up upon his hands and upon his feet, and
his armourbearer after him: and they fell before Jonathan; and
his armourbearer slew after him.

014:014 And that first slaughter, which Jonathan and his armourbearer
made, was about twenty men, within as it were an half acre of
land, which a yoke of oxen might plow.

014:015 And there was trembling in the host, in the field, and among
all the people: the garrison, and the spoilers, they also
trembled, and the earth quaked: so it was a very great

The point of view shifts to the Israelites down in the valley. Suddenly, they notice the swirl and turmoil amid the Philistine host. Saul rouses his men and sends them to attack (he doesn’t know at first that he is watching his own son Jonathan whacking away at the Philistines all by himself).

014:016 And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked; and,
behold, the multitude melted away, and they went on beating
down one another.

014:017 Then said Saul unto the people that were with him, Number now,
and see who is gone from us. And when they had numbered,
behold, Jonathan and his armourbearer were not there.

014:018 And Saul said unto Ahiah, Bring hither the ark of God. For the
ark of God was at that time with the children of Israel.

014:019 And it came to pass, while Saul talked unto the priest, that
the noise that was in the host of the Philistines went on and
increased: and Saul said unto the priest, Withdraw thine hand.

014:020 And Saul and all the people that were with him assembled
themselves, and they came to the battle: and, behold, every
man’s sword was against his fellow, and there was a very great

014:021 Moreover the Hebrews that were with the Philistines before
that time, which went up with them into the camp from the
country round about, even they also turned to be with the
Israelites that were with Saul and Jonathan.

014:022 Likewise all the men of Israel which had hid themselves in
mount Ephraim, when they heard that the Philistines fled, even
they also followed hard after them in the battle.

014:023 So the LORD saved Israel that day….

Samson whacking Philistines

I don’t know why I like this story as much as I do. I like the idea that their are Israelite berserkers and that Saul has to count the roll before he can figure out who it is up there on the hill top fighting the Philistines for him. (There is a sorry ending to the story however. While Jonathan has been saving the Israelites, Saul has made everyone vow not to eat anything til evening. Jonathan finds a honey tree after the battle and eats and is “enlightened”—echo of Eve in the Garden of Eden in Genesis. He eventually catches up with his father and tells him about the honey and poor Saul, the most interesting character in the Bible to this point—sort of a biblical Macbeth, says something like, well, that’s great, now I have to put you to death. After some tricky legal work, Jonathan is somehow saved for the time being. But this is all part of Saul’s decline, his falling away from God’s will. It’s also one of a type of story you see over and over: the more or less earnest achiever being punished for disobeying a rule he hadn’t heard about yet.)

The other great berserker moment is in Judges 15 when Samson, in a kind of trance, using the jawbone of a donkey, slaughters a thousand Philistines (the Philistines are the straight men of biblical history; they just stand up and get whacked, and stand up and get whacked, and stand up again).


  4 Responses to “Berserkers in the Bible”

  1. I like this.

    Did they bite their shields?

  2. Thanks for posting this story. It’s something else. And I hadn’t thought much about POV shifts in the Bible; now I will!

    • Oh, yes. The POV shift is gorgeous. One sentence you’re in the fight, the next you’re seeing this swirling knot of fighters on a distant hilltop.

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