Yonatan and Yonatan: Two Gifts from God

May 21, 2024

Jonathan (or Yonatan, in Hebrew) is one of my favorite Biblical characters. Why? I love the combination of faith in God, loyalty to his people, and quiet heroism that Yonatan embodies. Yonatan stands by his values and faith – looking for ways to protect the Israelites even at the expense of his own life. And so it’s no coincidence that a modern-day hero who embodied those traits was also named Yonatan. I’m talking about Yoni Netanyahu, a decorated Israeli Army Officer as well as a hero of the 1976 Entebbe Hostage Rescue Operation. 

By the way, if ‘Netanyahu’ sounds familiar to you – you’re not imagining things. Yoni (as he was nicknamed), was the older brother to the current Prime Minister of Israel, Bibi (Benjamin). I say was because Yoni was tragically killed in one of the most epic, cinematic hostage rescue operations of the 20th century.

Heroes often emerge in times of great need, their actions leaving a permanent mark on history. Yoni Netanyahu, an Israeli commander, and Yonatan, son of King Saul, are two figures whose courageous acts and ultimate sacrifices have become legendary. The Entebbe Raid, in which Yoni Netanyahu met his heroic end, is a testament to modern-day bravery. This story mirrors the Biblical account of Yonatan’s daring mission against the Philistines. Both men died for their country, embodying the timeless values of courage, leadership, and selflessness. Let’s dive in. 

One of the more concerning parts of the 1960s and 1970 was a string of plane hijackings carried out by Palestinian Terrorist Groups. Yup, we are no strangers to dealing with external terror in the name of “resistance.” In fact, the hijackings were so frequent (and terrifying) that this prompted El-Al Airlines, Israel’s National Airline, to up their own internal security. The Entebbe Raid, also known as Operation Thunderbolt, is one of the more well-known Hijackings and, subsequently, one of the most celebrated rescue missions in modern military history. 

Here’s what happened. On June 27, 1976, an Air France plane was hijacked by terrorists and diverted to Entebbe, Uganda. The hostages, mostly Israelis and Jews, were held in the old terminal of Entebbe Airport under the watchful eyes of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin’s forces. The terrorists demanded the release of 50 imprisoned terrorists and a ransom of five million dollars. They would kill the hostages if their demands were not met. The Israeli government had one week to meet these horrifying demands. Their only option, it seemed, was to negotiate with terrorists on a hostage deal. It sounds eerily familiar. 

Luckily, the Israeli government had another plan. Top officials, including the Prime Minister at the time, Yitzchak Rabin, authorized a daring rescue mission. Lieutenant Colonel Yoni Netanyahu was chosen to lead the assault team of the Sayeret Matkal, Israel’s elite commando unit. 

In the dark of the night of July 4, 1976, a force of Israeli commandos, transported by four Hercules aircraft, landed at Entebbe Airport. Yoni’s team, disguised in Ugandan military vehicles, quickly moved towards the terminal where the hostages were held. Their guise was so convincing; they even used a black Mercedes vehicle, mimicking the transport of choice for the Ugandan President. The Ugandan troops were fooled. 

Finally, Colonel Netanyahu and his men entered the old terminal at the Ugandan airport and located the hostages. They were immediately met by the Ugandan military and the terrorists, and a fierce firefight took place. Yoni Netanyahu led the charge, demonstrating exceptional bravery and leadership. And despite being heavily outnumbered and operating in hostile territory, the Israeli commandos swiftly neutralized the terrorists and rescued 102 hostages. This story has a bittersweet ending, though. Tragically, during the assault, Yoni was fatally wounded by a sniper’s bullet. His death marked the only Israeli soldier casualty in the operation, but his heroism ensured the mission’s success and the safe return of the hostages.

Let’s shift to the Bible, where we’ll meet the other Yonatan. 

During a time of Philistine oppression, Yonatan, son of King Saul, undertook a secret mission. He was going to strike a decisive blow against the enemy. How? Well, the Philistines had established a garrison at Michmash, and the Israelites were vastly outnumbered and demoralized. So Yonatan, accompanied only by Ahiyah, his armor-bearer, decided to infiltrate the Philistine camp.

Yonatan’s plan was audacious. He and Ahiyah climbed a steep pass to reach the enemy outpost. Yonatan believed that God would help him fool the Philistines. And sure enough, they unwittingly invited them to approach. The Philistine guards mocked them – thinking they were two random Israelites who were lost – and called them forward…falling into Yonatan’s trap. In a display of remarkable courage and faith, Yonatan and Ahiyah attacked, killing about twenty Philistines in a brief and intense skirmish.

This bold action created chaos within the Philistine camp, the Philistines, confused and terrified, turned on each other! Just imagine the scene—Yonatan and Ahiyah, standing victoriously to the side while the Philistines destroyed themselves from within. Seeing the enemy in disarray, Saul rallied his troops and joined the battle, securing a significant victory for Israel. Yonatan’s bravery not only turned the tide of the war but also inspired his fellow Israelites to stand up and fight.

The parallels between Yoni Netanyahu and Yonatan are striking. Both men embarked on brave missions against enemies, demonstrating exceptional courage and leadership. Their actions were driven by a deep sense of duty and patriotism and profoundly impacted their people. While Yoni led a modern military operation with meticulous planning and execution, Yonatan relied on faith and boldness in the face of overwhelming odds.

Ultimately, both Yoni and Yonatan paid the ultimate price for their bravery. Yoni’s death during the Entebbe Raid immortalized him as a national hero, and generations celebrated and remembered his sacrifice. Yonatan’s death in a subsequent Philistine battle, alongside his father and brothers, left a lasting legacy of courage and devotion in the Jewish People and their salvation. 

Their stories remind us that in every time and place, there are heroes. In the ancient hills of Israel. In Uganda. Today, assaulting evil in the tunnels of Gaza. There are so many Yonatans we haven’t met. Who we will never meet. Yet, they are all connected by their bravery and self-sacrifice.

Yoni Netanyahu and Yonatan died for their country, and their heroic deeds are forever recorded in history. Their legacies are enduring symbols of the courage and dedication required to protect and preserve freedom and justice.

Unfortunately, the story of hostages desperately needing our help is all too familiar. The name Yonatan, or Jonathan, means ‘God has given.’ By embodying the God-like qualities of the Biblical and modern Yonatans’ with the spirit of generosity to our people, we, too, can make a difference today. Help us support the families of hostages as they continue their valiant efforts to bring their loved ones home.

Sara Lamm

Sara Lamm is a content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. Originally from Virginia, she moved to Israel with her husband and children in 2021. Sara has a Masters Degree in Education from Bankstreet college and taught preschool for almost a decade before making Aliyah to Israel. Sara is passionate about connecting Bible study with “real life’ and is currently working on a children’s Bible series.

Sara Lamm

Sara Lamm is a content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. Originally from Virginia, she moved to Israel with her husband and children in 2021. Sara has a Masters Degree in Education from Bankstreet college and taught preschool for almost a decade before making Aliyah to Israel. Sara is passionate about connecting Bible study with “real life’ and is currently working on a children’s Bible series.

Subscribe

Sign up to receive daily inspiration to your email

Recent Posts
Naso – When God ‘Shines His Face’ Towards Us
Remembering Sara Blaustein: A True Woman of Valor
Lost in Translation

Related Articles

Subscribe

Sign up to receive daily inspiration to your email