Last week we began a new sermon series – Great Battles of the Bible – because the Bible is just chucked-full of battle stories. We started off with a Sunday school favorite – Joshua and the Battle of Jericho. But this week, we’re going to get off the beaten trail a little bit and tackle a story that you’ve probably heard, but it’s not one of those Sunday School classics.
It all starts just a short while after King Saul is made the first king of Israel. Now to give you an idea of where this all fits in Bible history, let’s start back where we left off last week.
Last week, Joshua and the Israelites took over Jericho – the first of many cities in the Land of Canaan. Over the next several years, the Israelites continued to conquer the different cities and the different people groups that were in the Promised Land. You can read about many of these battles in the book of Joshua. But then once most of the land had been taken, the Israelites settled down, built cities, started farming and just kinda living their regular lives. But of course, there were still enemies around. One of these enemies were the Philistines. They are probably best remembered for their champion Goliath, but we’re not at that battle yet – that’s another day. And from time to time, these enemies would come and attack the Israelites. This is where the Judges comes in. The Judges were like the heros who would rise up and defeat the enemy and save the day. These are the people like Gideon, Samson, & Ehud. You can read about these guys in the book of Judges. The last of these Judges was a man named Samuel. Samuel comes on the scene about 400 years after Joshua.
Now to make a long story short, the people of Israel decide that they no longer want to be led by God through these Judges, but rather they wanted to be led by a king – like all the nations around them. And so God kinda reluctantly gives them a king. His name is Saul. And our story today begins with the Philistines gathering up a huge army to march against Saul (the new king of Israel) and his son Jonathan. 1 Samuel 13:5-7
“The Philistines mustered a mighty army of 3,000 chariots, 6,000 charioteers, and as many warriors as the grains of sand on the seashore! They camped at Micmash east of Beth-aven. 6 The men of Israel saw what a tight spot they were in; and because they were hard pressed by the enemy, they tried to hide in caves, thickets, rocks, holes, and cisterns. 7 Some of them crossed the Jordan River and escaped into the land of Gad and Gilead.” 1 Samuel 13:5-7
Let’s just stop here for a second. What’s going on here? What is so scary about these Philistines that the army of Israel is hiding in caves, under the bushes, among the rocks, in holes and down in the wells? I mean, sure, women and children might do that – but the army? Well, let’s see if we can put ourselves in their shoes.
You’ll notice that the Philistines had 3,000 chariots. We might not think that’s very significant, but that was a huge show of power for that time. For one army to have chariots – was like an army in the civil war to have machine guns. Or an army in World War One to have airplanes. If they have them, and you don’t – you’re in serious trouble.
Another thing you’ll notice was that in addition to their chariots, they had “as many warriors as grains of sand on the seashore.” Now I don’t know exactly how many grains of sand there are on the seashore, but I would guess that this army would have to be at least hundreds of thousands. If that seems a little extreme, In another place in the Bible, it talks about an Ethiopian general with an army of a million men. So an army of that size was not unheard of back then. So when the Bible says there were as many warriors as grains of sand on a seashore – it’s got to be at least hundreds of thousands. That’s a pretty intimidating army.
And one last thing to take into account was their weapons. Jump down a few verses to verse 19.
19 There were no blacksmiths in the land of Israel in those days. The Philistines wouldn’t allow them for fear they would make swords and spears for the Hebrews. 20 So whenever the Israelites needed to sharpen their plowshares, picks, axes, or sickles, they had to take them to a Philistine blacksmith. 21 (The charges were as follows: a quarter of an ounce of silver for sharpening a plowshare or a pick, and an eighth of an ounce for sharpening an ax, a sickle, or an ox goad.) 22 So on the day of the battle none of the people of Israel had a sword or spear, except for Saul and Jonathan.
So Saul & Jonathan were the only ones in the Israeli army who had actual weapons, the others just had pitchforks, axes, and pointed sticks.
So let’s recap – on one side we have the Philistines, hundreds of thousands strong, complete with with swords, spears, and body armor and with them 3,000 of the most technologically advanced war machines of the time called chariots. On the other hand, we have the Israelites, complete with pitchforks and pointed sticks. Now perhaps it makes sense that “they tried to hide in caves, thickets, rocks, holes, and cisterns.
Well, let’s find out what happened. Verse 7.
Meanwhile, Saul stayed at Gilgal, and his men were trembling with fear. 8 Saul waited there seven days for Samuel, as Samuel had instructed him earlier, but Samuel still didn’t come. Saul realized that his troops were rapidly slipping away. 9 So he demanded, “Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings!” And Saul sacrificed the burnt offering himself.
10 Just as Saul was finishing with the burnt offering, Samuel arrived. Saul went out to meet and welcome him, 11but Samuel said, “What is this you have done?”
Saul replied, “I saw my men scattering from me, and you didn’t arrive when you said you would, and the Philistines are at Micmash ready for battle. 12 So I said, ‘The Philistines are ready to march against us at Gilgal, and I haven’t even asked for the Lord’s help!’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering myself before you came.”
13 “How foolish!” Samuel exclaimed. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. Had you kept it, the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom must end, for the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart. The Lord has already appointed him to be the leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”
1 Samuel 13:7-14
Well, this is not a good start for Israel’s new king. God, through Samuel, had told him to wait at Gilgal. (You can read that a few chapters back.) But when Samuel didn’t show up and Saul saw the huge Philistine army and he saw that his own army was rapidly slipping away, he decided to take matters into his own hands. In the words of Samuel,“How Foolish!” God had told Him to wait for Samuel. It was not his place to make those sacrifices – that was Samuel’s job. And because Saul disobeyed the command of the Lord, He would lose out on God’s blessing. God would not establish his kingdom forever, as He would have if Saul would have obeyed. How foolish! But how very much like us.
I know I have a terrible time waiting for God. I know God has a plan. I know God has perfect timing. I know I would be best to wait for Him. But yet so often, I don’t. I rush ahead or I try to make things happen on my own. I take matters into my own hands or try to hurry God along. But it doesn’t work like that. In fact, usually, as it was in the case of Saul, it just creates more problems.
When Saul decided to ignore the Lord’s instructions, and go ahead and do his own thing, He forfeited his kingdom. He would forfeit God’s blessing. His children would not succeed him as king. That’s a pretty harsh consequence for a king, but it’s a good reminder for us as to the consequences of disobeying God. If we are going to choose to disobey God, then we are going to forfeit the blessings He has for us. It’s just that simple. Obedience brings blessings – disobedience forfeits those blessings. A good reminder indeed.
Well, let’s get back to our story and see what happened next.
“Samuel then left Gilgal and went on his way, but the rest of the troops went with Saul to meet the army. They went up from Gilgal to Gibeah in the land of Benjamin. When Saul counted the men who were still with him, he found only 600 were left!” 1 Samuel 13:15
So to recap: Saul & his 600 men with pitchforks on one side. Hundreds of thousands of heavily armed Philistines with chariots on the other side. But as these two groups faced-off, the story takes a very interesting turn as Jonathan, Saul’s son, gets involved. Chapter 14 – verse 1. (And if you are following along in your own Bible, you’ll notice that for the sake of time this morning, I’ll be hopping over the occasional verses here and there just to keep the story moving.)
1One day Jonathan said to his armor bearer, “Come on, let’s go over to where the Philistines have their outpost.” But Jonathan did not tell his father what he was doing…
No one realized that Jonathan had left the Israelite camp. 4 To reach the Philistine outpost, Jonathan had to go down between two rocky cliffs that were called Bozez and Seneh… 6 “Let’s go across to the outpost of those pagans,” Jonathan said to his armor bearer. “Perhaps the Lord will help us, for nothing can hinder the Lord. He can win a battle whether he has many warriors or only a few!”
7 “Do what you think is best,” the armor bearer replied. “I’m with you completely, whatever you decide.”
8 “All right then,” Jonathan told him. “We will cross over and let them see us. 9 If they say to us, ‘Stay where you are or we’ll kill you,’ then we will stop and not go up to them. 10 But if they say, ‘Come on up and fight,’ then we will go up. That will be the Lord’s sign that he will help us defeat them.”
11 When the Philistines saw them coming, they shouted, “Look! The Hebrews are crawling out of their holes!” 12Then the men from the outpost shouted to Jonathan, “Come on up here, and we’ll teach you a lesson!”
“Come on, climb right behind me,” Jonathan said to his armor bearer, “for the Lord will help us defeat them!”
13 So they climbed up using both hands and feet, and the Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor bearer killed those who came behind them. 14 They killed some twenty men in all, and their bodies were scattered over about half an acre.
15 Suddenly, panic broke out in the Philistine army, both in the camp and in the field, including even the outposts and raiding parties. And just then an earthquake struck, and everyone was terrified.
16 Saul’s lookouts in Gibeah of Benjamin saw a strange sight—the vast army of Philistines began to melt away in every direction. 17 “Call the roll and find out who’s missing,” Saul ordered. And when they checked, they found that Jonathan and his armor bearer were gone…
20 Then Saul and all his men rushed out to the battle and found the Philistines killing each other. There was terrible confusion everywhere. 21 Even the Hebrews who had previously gone over to the Philistine army revolted and joined in with Saul, Jonathan, and the rest of the Israelites. 22 Likewise, the men of Israel who were hiding in the hill country of Ephraim joined the chase when they saw the Philistines running away. 23 So the Lord saved Israel that day, and the battle continued to rage even beyond Beth-aven.
1 Samuel 14:1, 3-4, 6-17, 20-23
What a fantastic story! I’ll bet the Philistines didn’t see that one coming! Who would have thought that 600 men with pitchforks could wipe out a massive army “as numerous as the sands on the seashore”? Well, I guess to be quite honest, they didn’t. God did it. And Jonathan, for one, knew it. Look back at verse 6.
6 “Let’s go across to the outpost of those pagans,” Jonathan said to his armor bearer. “Perhaps the Lord will help us, for nothing can hinder the Lord. He can win a battle whether he has many warriors or only a few!” 1 Samuel 14:6
Where’s Jonathan’s confidence? In the Israelite army? In his own abilities? Nope. His confidence is in the Lord. That’s the key to this whole passage. That, I think, is the lesson that God would have us learn today. We can put our full confidence in Him. Nothing can hinder the Lord. He can win a battle no matter what the odds.
You’ve got pitchforks, they’ve got chariots. No problem.
There’s 600 of you, there’s hundreds of thousands of them. Not an issue.
Nothing can hinder the Lord. Not massive Philistine armies. Not the huge walls of Jericho, not political upheaval in Egypt, not wildfires & flooding in Australia. Nothing can hinder the Lord.
And that’s great news for us, because although we may not be facing a Philistine army, we have many other battles and many other difficulties in life that we need to face.
- Some of us face a battle with health problems.
- Some of us face the battle of losing a loved one.
- Some of us face complicated relationships. Problems at work. Financial difficulties.
- Some of us face a battle with addictions or loneliness or bitterness.
And these are all very difficult things to go through or to overcome. But no matter what battles we face, we can have the same confidence that Jonathan had in God.
“Perhaps the Lord will help us, for nothing can hinder the Lord. He can win a battle whether he has many warriors or only a few!”
It’s interesting to see the difference between Jonathan and his father, Saul.
- Saul became fearful when He saw his army slipping away. Jonathan had confidence that God could win with many or a few.
- Saul took matters into his own hands – Jonathan fully relied on God.
When we face whatever battles we face, we don’t have to be like Saul. We don’t have to be fearful. We don’t have to take matters in our own hands. Instead, we can be like Jonathan. We can have absolute confidence in our God. Why? Because He made us and He loves us like crazy.
He wants to help us through these battles. He wants to show Himself strong. This whole story reminds me of a passage in Romans 8 and it talks exactly about all these things. So I think I’ll close with that passage today. It’s Romans 8:31-39.
31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What an encouragement! What a God! My favorite part in all that is verse 37 – “despite all these things, (all these battles we face) overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.”