1 Samuel #10. Faith (1 Samuel Chapter 14:1-23)
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Please read 1 Samuel 14 in order to understand what we will talk about here.
Last time we saw what came out of Saul when he was pressured. In that particular situation, what the Lord wanted him to do was wait in faith. He did not want Saul to try and save himself. He did not want Saul to just do something to hold things together. But Saul tried to make something happen on his own.
In chapter 14, Saul and his son Jonathan and the rest of the army are still basically in the same situation. The Philistines have almost cut the nation of Israel in half. The ordinary people in the region of the invasion have gone into hiding. Saul started out with 3,000 professional soldiers, but now he is left with only 600. In other words the only difference between the situation recorded here in chapter 14, and that in chapter 13, is that now, Saul has lost two thirds of his men to desertion. All his efforts to do something on his own have achieved nothing. Some might have thought of Saul’s actions as bold leadership. He offered the sacrifice. He made a move. He didn’t just sit there. But that didn’t stop a large majority of people from deserting anyway.
Now, we might conclude from this that when great pressure is upon us, the Lord wants us to sit still and wait for him, and do nothing. That could indeed be true. But we can’t make a law out of it. Sometimes he may want us to wait, even when things seem to be falling apart. But at other times, in almost the exact same situation, he may want us to act. The key to understanding whether you should act, or whether you should sit still, is to cultivate your relationship with the Lord. The Bible is an indispensable tool in doing that. If we treated it as only a rule-book, we wouldn’t need God at all. We could just follow the book. But actually, “the book” is all about helping us follow God, not a pre-determined set of rules covering all possible eventualities.
Saul’s son Jonathan, is NOT a chip off the old block. He appears to be a man of great faith. Even though he saw that his father had made a mistake, Jonathan did not, from that, assume that it meant things were the same for him and he should sit still and do nothing. He seems to have had a genuine faith relationship with God. He is willing to act, but he is also willing to not act. He knew the point was to ask this question: “Lord, what do you want to do in this situation?”
We see Jonathan’s faith first in his remarks to his armor bearer, his assistant in battle.
Jonathan said to his armor bearer, “Come on, let’s go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised men. Perhaps the LORD will intervene for us. Nothing can prevent the LORD from delivering, whether by many or by a few.” (1 Samuel 14:6)
He has it on his heart to do something. He assumes that the Lord is working through that. In addition, see how he is motivated not by fear, but by faith. In chapter 13, Saul acted out of fear. He thought, “I am outnumbered already, and now I am losing men. I just need to do something.” Jonathan thinks the opposite: “It doesn’t matter how many men we have. What matters is whether or not God wants us to do something. If he does, the two of us are enough.” Jonathan’s action is prompted not by fear, but by faith. It proceeds from the relationship he has with God.
Notice that Jonathan doesn’t leave it there. He is prompted by faith. He trusts that God doesn’t need 3,000 or even 600 men to defeat the Philistines. But he does want God to confirm that he is leading Jonathan to do this. So when they get closer, Jonathan gives the Lord a chance to show him, one way or another, what He wants him to do.
8 Jonathan replied, “All right! We’ll go over to these men and fight them. 9 If they say to us, ‘Stay put until we approach you,’ we will stay right there and not go up to them. 10 But if they say, ‘Come up against us,’ we will go up. For in that case the LORD has given them into our hand – it will be a sign to us.”
Jonathan is not following a rule book. He is following the living God. And so he opens up to letting the Lord interact with him, and show him what to do. As it happens, what the Lord wants Jonathan to do is opposite of what he wanted Saul to do just a short time earlier. The Philistines taunt him. Basically, they say, “Hey, c’mere. We want to show you something.” It’s a sadistic joke. If he climbs up to their position, they’ll kill him. But this is the sign that Jonathan asked for, so he and his armor-bearer climb up to them.
The Philistines had assumed they were just trading taunts. They didn’t really expect two people to be crazy enough to attack uphill against overwhelming numerical superiority. They didn’t count on a warrior like Jonathan, and they didn’t count on God. Jonathan and his assistant killed twenty Philistines in a short span of time and within a pretty small area.
This threw the garrison into panic and confusion. Perhaps they sensed something supernatural in the ferocity and deadliness of Jonathan’s attack. Their panic spread to the other Philistine soldiers as they fled. Apparently, God timed an earthquake to coincide with the assault, only increasing the confusion and fear.
Soldiers talk about the “fog of war.” In the midst of battle things are very hectic and often happen very fast and confusion develops in a hurry. The Philistines had no radios, no overhead airplanes or other modern conveniences to offset the fog of war. Things got worse for them and soon there was a general panic.
Saul, encamped some distance away with his army noticed the stir in the Philistine positions. Just a few days (at the most, weeks) earlier, Saul had been ready to do something – anything – to try and make something happen and show himself a leader. If he had listened to God, he would have heard that at that point in time, that was the wrong course. But Saul still hasn’t learned his lesson. Now is the time to act. If he would just pray and listen for God’s response, he would know it. But Saul does not have that kind of relationship with God. Samuel told him that it was wrong to act, last time. So now, when he should be following up on Jonathan’s bold blow, Saul hesitates.
He sends for the priest and the Ark of the Covenant. Saul doesn’t have the confidence that Jonathan has, the confidence that God will lead him. So Saul needs to have the priest perform a religious ceremony to tell him what to do. Even so, as the ceremony begins, the confusion among the Philistines increases even more, and Saul basically says to the priest, “forget it. Let’s just go.”
So you see he wasn’t really serious about hearing from God. He just wasn’t sure at first if the battle would go his way. When things got to a point where it was obvious that the Philistines could be defeated, he dropped his attempt to hear from God, and joined in. As before in his life, Saul just looks at God as a means to an end. He only wants to connect with God in situations where God can do something for him.
The battle became a rout. Remember, the Philistines were led by five kings, from five different Philistine cities. So, many of the professional warriors on the battlefield did not know each other. It is highly unlikely that there were any kind of regular Philistine uniforms. There would have been many different war banners, designating different leaders and army units. Now, during the initial assault, the first garrison of Philistines were faced with only two warriors. They lost a lot of men, and quickly fled. It is likely that they ran headlong toward other Philistine positions to get away. But the other Philistine units may not have recognized them. They may have looked for enemies, and seen no one other than the mob running toward them. After all, there were only two real enemies on the field. So scripture records that they began fighting each other. They weren’t crazy, they were just unfamiliar with their own allies, and confused. The retreat of the unit that Jonathan attacked was probably considered an attack by the unit that they fled toward. This kind of confusion spread rapidly. By the time Saul and the rest of his 600 men joined in it was easy. The Israelites who had been hiding realized the Philistines were fleeing, and they came out to help also. Apparently some Israelites had joined the Philistines, or been conscripted by them. They turned on their Philistine masters. Now the victory was really on.
When I was at Oregon State University, I took a course in botany. I was given a “key” to the flora of Western Oregon. It was a book, about as thick as a bible, that could help me figure out the species of virtually any plant I was likely to see in that area. The way it worked was to present with me with a possible choice, and, depending on what I chose, send me to another page with another set of choices, until my choices narrowed down to the correct answer. So I might start by deciding if I was dealing with an evergreen or deciduous plant. Say I chose deciduous. Then it would ask me to choose whether the leaves were lobed or not. Say I chose lobed. Next I might choose whether the leaves were directly opposite each other, or if they were staggered, or if they were in clumps. And so in one case I proceeded through each step, covering every possible plant I might encounter, until I narrowed it down to find out I was holding poison oak, which I could have found out just by waiting a few days for the rash to appear.
Sometimes, we are tempted to treat the Bible or religion like a “key” to life. We expect that we should find specific instructions for every possible scenario. And we assume that if the answer was “X” one time, than the next time we encounter a similar scenario, the answer will still be “X.” But that isn’t really what the Bible is for. The Bible is to help us to get to know God. The answer is always in relationship with the Lord. And if we start treating the Bible or religion as an answer key instead of as a means to get close to God, we will miss the point. The idea is this: The Bible helps us get to know the Lord – and then the Lord tells us what he wants us to know or do. It won’t contradict the Bible. But if you have the Bible and not a faith based relationship with the Lord through Jesus Christ, you don’t have the right answer, no matter how well you know the Bible.
The lesson here is not, “you should wait when you are pressured.” Nor is it, “you should move forward decisively when you are pressured.” No. The message is that you should cultivate your relationship with God. Then when you are under pressure and need to know what to do, you won’t be like Saul, hesitating and unsure. You can simply check with the Lord, and move forward – or not – as he leads you.
Maybe there is something else here for you. Perhaps you needed to hear God speak through Jonathan – “nothing can stop the Lord from saving, whether by many, or by few.” Maybe you are tempted, like Saul, to believe deliverance cannot come until you have more – more people, more resources, more time, more money…whatever. But maybe the Lord is saying to you, “what you have is plenty. The point is not your resources, but mine.”
Let Him speak to you right now.