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The Faith of Jonathan

As we’ve been going through the book of 1 Samuel, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about King Saul – the first King of Israel. But last week we were introduced to a new character in the story – Saul’s son Jonathan. And Jonathan will actually play a significant role throughout the rest of the book. As we saw last week, he is a key commander in Saul’s military (commanding a 1/3 of Israel’s standing army) and in the weeks ahead, we will see how he eventually becomes one of David’s closest allies – even at a time when King Saul was trying to kill David.

But that’s getting ahead of our story.

If you were with us last week, you’ll remember that Jonathan had just attacked and defeated the Philistine garrison stationed in Geba. We don’t know if this was by order of King Saul, or if Jonathan simply took it upon himself to make this attack. But either way, Jonathan’s actions triggered an open revolt against the Philistines who had been oppressing the Israelites for some time now.

In response, the Philistines gathered their army – which composed of 3000 chariots, 6000 charioteers, and as many warriors as grains of sand on the seashore – and they set up camp at Micmash. At the same time, Saul gathered his much smaller army at Gilgal and waited for the prophet Samuel to come and make a sacrifice to God before they went into battle.

However, as they waited for Samuel, their fear of the Philistines grew and grew and many of Saul’s men fled from their posts – hiding in fear from the mighty Philistine army. Well, after 7 days of more and more men disappearing from the camp, and with no sign of Samuel, Saul foolishly took it upon himself (in direct disobedience to God) to offer the sacrifice himself.

God had clearly instructed the Israelites that these sacrifices were only to be done by God’s appointed priest – and not by the King or anyone else. So this was an act of blatant disobedience. Well, as it happened, Samuel showed up just as Saul was finishing the sacrifice and as Saul tried to justify his actions, Samuel told him plainly that his disobedience to the Lord would cost him the kingdom! The Lord would choose another king to replace him – one who would seek after the heart of God.

And that’s about as far as we got last week.  We’re going to pick it up today in 1 Samuel chapter 13, verse 15.

15 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! 16 Saul and Jonathan and the troops with them were staying at Geba in the land of Benjamin. The Philistines set up their camp at Micmash. 17 Three raiding parties soon left the camp of the Philistines. One went north toward Ophrah in the land of Shual, 18 another went west to Beth-horon, and the third moved toward the border above the valley of Zeboim near the wilderness.

1 Samuel 13:15-18

So here’s the situation. The Philistine army (composted of 3000 chariots, 6000 charioteers, and as many warriors as sands on the seashore) have now divided into four groups. Three of those groups have split off and gone in different directions to make raiding excursions into the land of Israel. The remaining group stayed at Micmash to face off against King Saul and his army.

However, Saul doesn’t really have much of an army at all anymore. In his first battle, Saul commanded 330,000 men to fight against King Nahash. But in this battle, nearly the entire army has fled, leaving only 600 men to fight against the Philistines. These are not good odds!

And what’s more, you’ll recall that we mentioned last week, none of the Israelites even had a sword or spear! Verse 19 goes on to explain… 

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 or making the point of 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.

1 Samuel 13:19-22

This whole situation kinda reminds me of the story of Gideon – if you’re familiar with him. Gidean had faced off against a massive horde of Midianites in a very similar situation – except Gideon only had 300 men and his men were armed with torches and trumpets! So Saul and his 600 swordless men still have better odds than Gideon, but this is none-the-less a completely lop-sided battle that they have no chance of winning unless God intervenes.

And maybe you can relate to that this morning. I think everybody is always facing battles of some kind – maybe for you it’s stress, or maybe it’s a relationship that’s falling apart. Maybe you’re battling addictions, or fighting through financial difficulties, maybe depression or loneliness is the battle you face.… There’s always a battle to be fought! And maybe in your situation, it feels like you’ve got a ragtag army of 600 swordless men and you’re facing off against a well-trained army in the 100s of thousands, complete with chariots and charioteers! It could well be, that in your situation, it seems you have no chance of winning unless God somehow miraculously intervenes!

And you know, that’s not such a bad situation. It certainly seemed to work out for Gideon (if you know that story) and we’re going to see how things worked out for Saul and Jonathan in just a bit. But when you’ve been backed into a corner and God’s intervention is your only hope – you’re actually in a pretty good place. Cause God loves to intervene! He loves to come to the rescue! He loves to come through for people who put their trust in Him! Isaiah 43:1 says…

But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you.

    O Israel, the one who formed you says, 

“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.

    I have called you by name; you are mine.

2 When you go through deep waters,

    I will be with you.

When you go through rivers of difficulty,

    you will not drown.

When you walk through the fire of oppression,

    you will not be burned up;

    the flames will not consume you.

3 For I am the Lord, your God,

    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Isaiah 43:1-3

Our God is a God who loves to rescue us! He doesn’t necessarily keep us from trouble, but when we’re in trouble, he always walks alongside us – He’s with us through the deep water, He’s with us through the fire, He’s with us through all the lop-sided battles that we may face.

He’s with us through it all – and promises to give us victory in the end – just like he did with Gideon and just like he did with Saul & Jonathan.

But I’m getting ahead of myself again! We haven’t even gotten to the good part yet! 

As it stands now, the tiny 600-man army of Israel is now facing the massive army of Philistines who are sending raiding parties into Israel from all different directions. Things are not looking good for Saul and Jonathan. 

We’ve got one more verse to read in chapter 13, and then we’ll move right into chapter 14. It goes like this:

23 The pass at Micmash had meanwhile been secured by a contingent of the Philistine army. 

1 One 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.

2 Meanwhile, Saul and his 600 men were camped on the outskirts of Gibeah, around the pomegranate tree at Migron. 3 Among Saul’s men was Ahijah the priest, who was wearing the ephod, the priestly vest. Ahijah was the son of Ichabod’s brother Ahitub, son of Phinehas, son of Eli, the priest of the Lord who had served at Shiloh.

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. 5 The cliff on the north was in front of Micmash, and the one on the south was in front of Geba.

1 Samuel 13:23-14:5

Now there are a lot of strange names of people and places in those verses we just read, but let me just simply summarize it like this: As Saul and his men sit around, in the shade of a pomegranate tree, Jonathan and his armour-bearer decided to go have a little visit to the Philistine outpost.

Now at this point, it isn’t specifically stated what Jonathan’s intentions are in going over to the Philistine outpost, but considering that he was the one who set off this whole war by attacking the Philistine outpost at Geba, we can safely assume he’s itching to bring the fight to the Philistines.

And with him is his armour bearer. 

At this time in history, most military leaders or war heroes had an armour bearer. For example, We know that Goliath had one, here we see Jonathan had one, and later, even David would be one of Saul’s armour bearers for a time. And these armour bearers didn’t just carry around the armour for their leader – although that was part of their task. From a few different examples in Scripture, we see they actually had a couple other key tasks. 

One of which was to protect the man they were assigned to – sort of like an elite body guard. They were to keep their master safe in battle so that he could fight and lead the other men without unnecessary distractions. Their other main task was to finish off the enemies that were wounded by their master. The master would strike the disabling blow, and then the armour bearer would come in for the kill. That way the master could focus on taking out the biggest threats without wasting strength, energy, and time finishing the job.

So clearly, an armour bearer had to be a skilled warrior and trusted companion. And Jonathan’s armour bearer seems to be just this kind of fellow, as we’re going to see very shortly. 

Together, Jonathan and his armour bearer decide to go over to the Philistine outpost. It seems there was a steep gorge separating the Philistines from the Israelites, and so Jonathan and his armour-bearer had to climb down the one side of the rocky cliff and then up the other in order to get to to where the Philistines had their outpost – which was guarding the pass at Micmash.

From the context in verse 23, it would appear that this pass was a critical waypoint for either army to pass through in order to get to their opponents on the other side – and right now, the Philistine’s controlled that pass and would, therefore, ensure there was no surprise attacks from the Israelites.

Jonathan however, wondered if he could change all that. Take a look at verse 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 13:6

And I just love Jonathan’s confidence! Not confidence in himself. Not confidence in his own abilities. But his absolute confidence in God! He has no doubt that God can win the victory!

He says, “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!”

And perhaps as he said this, maybe Jonathan was thinking about Gideon and his 300 men and how God gave them an incredible victory! Perhaps God would do the same thing again! In Jonathan’s mind, it didn’t matter that there was only two of them against a whole garrison of Philistines. If God was on their side, how could they lose? Nothing can hinder the Lord. God can win a battle whether he has many warriors or only a few.

Earlier we touched on some of the battles that each of us face – battles where we feel backed into a corner and it seems there is no way that we can win unless God intervenes. Can I just encourage you that Jonathan’s statement is true in your situation as well.

Nothing can hinder the Lord. God can win the battle whether he has many warriors or a few.

He can win the battle when the relationship seems broken beyond repair.

He can win the battle when the cancer returns.

He can win the battle when the bank forecloses.

He can win the battle when you’re anxious or depressed.

No matter how badly the odds are stacked against you, God can win the battle!

He can win the battle whether he has many warriors or a few. Nothing can hinder the Lord.

This was a truth that Jonathan believed with all his heart. In fact, he was willing to bet his life on it. And it seems his armour bearer shared his confidence. Take a look a the next verse.

7 “Do what you think is best,” the armor bearer replied. “I’m with you completely, whatever you decide.” 1 Samuel 14:7

This armour bearer put his full trust in Jonathan as Jonathan put his full trust in the Lord. 

And I couldn’t help but notice how this relationship between Jonathan and his armour bearer really resembles the relationship that Jonathan will later have with David. I know we haven’t gotten to that part of the story yet, but Jonathan will eventually become David’s most trusted friend. And I think the fact that both David and this armour bearer completely trust Jonathan with their lives really speaks to Jonathan’s character. But we’ll get to that part in a future message.

But for now, Jonathan and his armour bearer are ready and willing to single-handedly go up against this garrison of Philistines – but first, they want to confirm that God is actually leading them to do this, and that this isn’t just some foolish idea that has popped into Jonathan’s head. So this is what Jonathan proposes, in verse 8.

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.” 1 Samuel 14:8-10

Even though Jonathan is eager and ready to bring the fight to the Philistines, he wisely determines to get confirmation from the Lord before he moves ahead. And so he devises a simple test. As they climb up the cliff, they would allow the Philistines to see them. Then if the Philistines tell them to stop or they will be killed, then that would be their signal that this wasn’t Lord’s leading and that God did not want them to go and fight the Philistines – at least not here and now. But if the Philistines did invite them to come up and fight, then they will take that as the Lord’s green light to go ahead – that God was going to give them the victory.

And so that’s exactly what they did. Verse 11 says:

11 When the Philistines saw them coming, they shouted, “Look! The Hebrews are crawling out of their holes!” 12 Then the men from the outpost shouted to Jonathan, “Come on up here, and we’ll teach you a lesson!”

Which of course, was exactly the signal that Jonathan was looking for to confirm that God was going to help them. I can imagine Jonathan getting a big grin on his face when he heard that as he turns to his armour bearer and says:

“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.

1 Samuel 14:11-14

In the lop-side battle that ensued, the Lord proved what Jonathan had declared earlier – God could win the battle whether he had many warriors or just a few.

And this is about as far as we’re going to go in our story this morning, but I do want to just quickly read what happened next. We’ll talk through most of this next week, but I’ve got to show you that God didn’t just empower these two men to defeat 20, but rather he used the actions of these two men to totally change the outcome of this war. It says in verse 15…

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.

1 Samuel 14:15-17

We’ll finish up this story next week, but we can clearly see that God used the faith of one man and his armour bearer to completely change the situation. Not that they did everything themselves – (they didn’t cause the earthquake or strike fear into every Philistine’s heart – God did that) but when Jonathan and his armour bearer choose to act in faith, God choose to bring about an incredible victory!

And I think that’s a great take-away for us. God doesn’t expect us to single-handedly change our situation. He may empower us to do certain things – even some amazing things! But more importantly, when we choose to act in faith – trusting that God can bring about the victory – that’s when God goes to work and does the impossible.

Faith isn’t sitting under a Pomegrante tree waiting for God to do something – faith is climbing up a rocky cliff saying to your armour bearer – “Let go over to the Philistine outpost. Perhaps the Lord will help us – for nothing can hinder the Lord.” That’s faith.

And so I’d just encourage you to think about your situation this morning. Think about the lop-sided battles that you face. Maybe it’s that relationship, or that health concern or those financial difficulties or that stress or depression or whatever it is….

You may not be able to single-handedly change the odds in your favour – but God can. He can win a battle whether he has many warriors or just a few. Nothing can hinder the Lord.

Your responsibility is to trust in the Lord and to do whatever it is that God enables you to do. You may not be able to totally change your situation, but you can do something. Do the things that God has asked you to do – and do those things through the power of God – but then just trust that God will take care of the rest.

I really like the chorus from the song “Whom Shall I Fear?” It goes like this:

I know who goes before me

I know who stands behind

The God of angel armies

Is always by my side

The one who reigns forever

He is a friend of mine

The God of angel armies

Is always by my side

And that’s the truth. The God of angel armies – the God who created the universe – He’s a friend who sticks closer than a brother. He is always by your side – giving you strength to do what he’s asked you to do, and then using his strength to do what you cannot do.

I’d just encourage you this morning to put your faith in the Lord – act on that faith – and trust God to bring about the victory.

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