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1 Samuel 13:22

So on the day of the battle not a soldier with Saul and Jonathan had a sword or spear in his hand; only Saul and his son Jonathan had them.

Should we interpret this literally?

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  • Within the history of warfare, combat weapons evolved from earlier tools, initially designed for agricultural and/or hunting purposes; this is precisely what we see in the aforementioned chapter, with the Philistines possessing more advanced weaponry than the Israelites. Spears and arrows, in particular, were used for hunting (large) game long before they were used on the battlefield.
    – Lucian
    Oct 7 '20 at 11:34
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As we arrive in 1 Sam 13, the Israelites had been under effective Philistine rule for many years. The effect of that rule was severe as noted in 1 Sam 13:16-22 -

16 Now Saul and Jonathan his son and the troops with them were staying in Geba of Benjamin, while the Philistines camped at Michmash. 17 And raiders went out of the Philistine camp in three divisions. One headed toward Ophrah in the land of Shual, 18 another toward Beth-horon, and the third down the border road overlooking the Valley of Zeboim facing the wilderness.

19 And no blacksmith could be found in all the land of Israel, because the Philistines had said, “The Hebrews must not be allowed to make swords or spears.” 20 Instead, all the Israelites would go down to the Philistines to sharpen their plowshares, mattocks, axes, and sickles. 21 The charge was a pim for sharpening a plowshare or mattock, a third of a shekel for sharpening a pitchfork or an axe, and a third of a shekel for repointing an oxgoad.

22 So on the day of battle not a sword or spear could be found in the hands of the troops with Saul and Jonathan; only Saul and his son Jonathan had weapons.

There may have also been a reluctance by some, even if they had a weapon, to hide it and not use it openly.

It also appears to be the purpose of the author of this passage to list the considerable forces of the Philistines (V5) which says -

Now the Philistines assembled to fight against Israel with three thousand chariots, six thousand horsemen, and troops as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Michmash, east of Beth-aven.

Thus, the Philistines clearly outnumbered the unarmed Israelite army, while the Philistines were "armed to the teeth". Thus, the author's intention appears to have been to demonstrate that God can produce a victory despite such overwhelming odds.

However, as the next chapter shows, Saul used this victory to inflate his own ego and thus demonstrated his inability to act as a servant-leader as he should have. (That is another discussion.)

Benson helpfully says:

1 Samuel 13:22. There was neither sword nor spear — This, it seems, must be restrained to the six hundred that were with Saul and Jonathan; for there were, no doubt, a considerable number of swords and spears among the Israelites, but they generally hid them, as now they did their persons, from the Philistines. And the Philistines had not yet attained to so great a power over them as wholly to disarm them, but thought it sufficient to prevent the making of new arms, knowing that the old ones would shortly be decayed and useless. There were likewise other arms more common in those times and places than swords and spears; to wit, bows and arrows, and slings and stones. And besides these, people anciently often used clubs, wherewith to beat down their enemies; and, before the invention of spears with iron points, they had sharp stakes hardened in the fire, as many authors inform us.

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  • I'm wondering also how much this had to do with iron. After David and his men lived among the Philistines, the blacksmith issue seems to have gone away.
    – Perry Webb
    Oct 7 '20 at 8:56
  • @PerryWebb - you are probably correct. There is no suggestion that the Israelites were unarmed - they had sticks and slings but no iron weapons.
    – Dottard
    Oct 7 '20 at 9:43

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