I had the privilege of spending the summer of 2005 in Kenya, some of you know this…you’ve heard me talk of it before. But I haven’t told you of the craziest thing I did there.
One night we were camping high up on a bluff and before going out to this camping spot our group was warned by the locals about the baboons. It is common in the Kenyan countryside to see baboons, and there fairly scared of humans when they’re alone but in groups they’ve been known to be very dangerous and aggressive. Well, after camping that night I woke up the next morning and grabbed my breakfast which was a big bag of raisins. I sat down started eating, something grabbed my attention and I put my bag of raisins down and left for just a few seconds.
To my dismay when I turned around and reached for my raisins I found one large baboon eating them. I remembered the words of the locals, and since this baboon was alone I thought the best thing to do was to puff out my chest and face this baboon to scare him off. Well I tried it, I puffed out my chest and put my arms in the air and made a loud noise, and it didn’t scare him in the least bit. Rather than running off this baboon turned to face me, puffed out his chest, stood up, put his arms in the air, and let out a growl that I’ll never forget. I’m 6’2, I’m not short, this baboon was at least 6 inches taller than me and looked like it had about 40 lbs. on me. Needless to say I cowered, the baboon ran away with my raisins, and rather than letting him go I threw a rock as hard as I could toward it, and hit him in the face…he dropped the raisins and ran off…and I was victorious!
Looking back I can see how foolish and reckless I was to try to face such a creature, it was literally crazy. In 1 Samuel 14 Saul’s son Jonathan does something that seems even crazier. Recall when we left the book of 1 Samuel 5 weeks ago we saw the beginning of the end for King Saul. Though Saul was still king God had rejected Saul’s kingly line through his disobedience in chapter 13. Sadly this decline will continue in chapter 14 and will eventually be completed in chapter 15 with King Saul himself being rejected as king.
4 points to see today.
a) The Scene (14:1-5)
In v1 Saul is sitting and Jonathan is moving. Perhaps Jonathan thought Saul was never going to get moving. So Jonathan went and got his armor bearer and chose to go attack the Philistines without telling his father probably because he knows he would’ve stopped him.
In v2-3 we find out who is with Saul and we’re not very encouraged. We see Saul, Ahijah, and 600 men. This is not encouraging because of prior rejection. Saul’s Kingly line has been rejected, we saw that story play out in chapter 13. And Ahijah the priest is no different. God gives a brief history of Ahijah to remind us of his rejection. Three names are present in Ahijah’s line to let us know this: Ichabod, Phinehas, and Eli. Recall that Ichabod’s name means ‘no glory’ or ‘the glory has departed.’ Recall Phinehas, an over-weight abuser of God’s people and a sexually immoral man. Recall, Eli the priest of the Lord in Shiloh, the timid man who wasn’t willing to deal with his sons sins. Ahijah is from these men. By giving us these details God is letting us know something about these leaders. Saul’s Kingly line has been rejected, Ahijah’s priestly line has been rejected, and since Samuel has rejected Saul the group now has no prophetic direction. Jonathan recognizes that this is not the group that is going to be characterized by godly action so he strikes out on his own to fight their enemy.
Things get more precarious in v4-5. The location of Jonathan’s little adventure is risky to say the least. It’s a narrow pass with two steep rocky slopes on each side, one of whom is known as Bozez meaning ‘slippery’ while the other is known as Seneh meaning ‘thorny.’ These slopes are so steep that when Jonathan later climbs them in v12-13 he has to crawl up them on his hands and feet. So see the scene set up for us in v1-5. It seems crazy. The plan is secret, the leaders are rejected, and the place Jonathan wants to execute his secret plan is severe. We have all the ingredients for a dramatic conclusion to this plot don’t we?
b) The Call (14:6)
v6 is the pinnacle of this passage, ‘Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, ‘Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.’’ Do not confuse the exceptional faith of Jonathan here for optimism. The scene given to us in v1-5 does not make for great optimism. Those circumstances would’ve grown optimism in Jonathan’s heart as much as a bucket of water helps a campfire grow. It’s faith in view here, great faith. Such faith springs up not because of the circumstances, but because Jonathan has his heart fixed on God – and his conviction about God creates a great expectation of God.
His words in v6, ‘Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving…’ is his deep conviction about God. This leads to his great expectation, ‘It may be that the Lord will work for us…’ So whether by many or by few Jonathan is bold in his trust of God. One commentator put Jonathan’s words like this, ‘God can do mighty works with very small resources, and God may be glad to do it in this case; and how can we know, dear armor-bearer, unless we place ourselves at His disposal?’ (Davis, 144) When God is in the equation, there is no limit to what He can do, He doesn’t need 600 fearful men and their 2 rejected leaders to defeat the Philistines, no, God only needs 2 men!
You know, it seems to me that our world is full of two kinds of people today – believers and skeptics. Yet what do we see in Jonathan? A deep faith existing alongside uncertainty. Does that make you uncomfortable? Too often Christians believe that to have faith in God means we must have an absolute certainty about many things. Yet this isn’t faith is it? Faith is a trust in God and an awareness that though we don’t know all things we do know God, who does know all things. Jonathan doesn’t know what’s going to happen on his adventure, but He does know God, and that God isn’t held back by the size of an army. That’s enough for him, and that leads him to do something seemingly crazy, take on the Philistine army with just one other guy! Boldly he calls his armor bearer to engage the enemy, saying, ‘Who knows what God may do?’ Deep faith alongside uncertainty, you know what that is a recipe for? Great excitement.
This feeling of excitement is exactly what I feel when I think of SonRise. Knowing v6, that size doesn’t help or hinder Kingdom impact, and knowing that we’re a smaller church, doesn’t leave me feeling bummed. It doesn’t leave me feeling as if SonRise is a church sitting at the kids table at thanksgiving dinner looking up at the adults who are real people with real ministries. No, the Lord is not hindered to save by many or by few. This gives me an eager excitement which prompts the question, ‘Who knows what God will do through us? It may be that the Lord will work for us and through us to do a mighty thing.’
c) The Victory (14:7-23)
Well, in v7 Jonathan’s armor bearer says he’s with him ‘heart and soul’ and they make their plan in v8-10. They will reveal themselves to the Philistines and if they say, ‘Come up to us’ then they’ll know God has given them into their hand. v8-10 is a pivotal point in chapters 13-15 of 1 Samuel, because in it we see Jonathan waiting on God for direction and guidance while before in chapter 13 and afterwards in chapter 15 we see Saul not waiting for God’s direction and guidance but rather acting on his wisdom. God is contrasting the obedience of Jonathan with the disobedience of Saul in these three chapters, and from this contrast we learn who the godly (kingly?) man really is. Saul may look like a king, but he is not fit for the throne at all. Rather, Jonathan (and a few chapters later David) displays the character that Saul should.
So do not hear in v8-10 a manual for how to find the will of God. We do not think up a phrase and then look for it to be repeated to us to know God’s will for our lives like Jonathan did. This event isn’t given to us to teach about how to go about finding God’s will at all. This event is not prescriptive (tells us what to do), it’s descriptive (tells us what happens).
So Jonathan and his armor bearer execute their plan, in v11-12 they get their confirmation that God really is doing something with them, so they attack. 2 men attack and entire army. This is crazy. To the Philistines it looked as foolish as it sounds to us. Jonathan led the way, and v13 says all those he knocked down were finished off by his armor bearer. They killed about 20 men, and from this attack v15 says God threw the entire Philistine garrison into panic, terror, and confusion. Saul and Ahijah heard the ruckus back at the camp, they quickly counted their army to see who was missing and when they found out it was Jonathan and his armor bearer Saul asked for the ark of God, presumably to inquire of God about this battle (remember the last time Saul did this?).
But while Saul was talking to Ahijah the ruckus in the Philistine camp grew louder, so Saul instructed the priest to stop inquiring of the Lord because he had made his decision, he will attack with his 600 men. Yet when they got to the fight, they found that every Philistine had turned against his companion, and that they were not needed. God saved Israel that day through 2 men, and Jonathan was right, ‘Nothing can keep God from saving by many or by few.’ This great victory was absolutely crazy, it was not the result of Kingly strategy, no, it was God’s work through the faith of 2 men who desired to be used of God saying, ‘Perhaps God will work for us.’ The text ends with v23 saying, ‘So the Lord saved Israel that day.’
d) The Meaning:
Now let’s bring this home to us. This text, 14:1-23 teaches that God is not hindered in any way to save by many or by few, and that what often looks like foolishness to man is the very wisdom of God to save His people. We learn this lesson in this passage by seeing Jonathan and his armor bearer (2 men only) defeat an entire battalion of Philistines. The Philistines thought it was foolish, Saul and Ahijah would’ve thought it was foolish, yet God saved His people Israel through it.
The meaning this chapter would have had to the original audience of 1 Samuel is one of encouragement. Surrounded by nations that are seemingly more fierce and mighty than they are may cause Israel to despair. But from this they would’ve been reminded that God is not limited in any way to save His people and mightily work through them. Fast forward to the present day and we must conclude the same thing. What is it that looks like foolishness to the 2016 world? We do. The Church and her gospel. 1 Cor. 1:18 says, ‘For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing…’ From the world’s perspective we look as foolish as 2 men fighting an entire army, or as foolish as I did when I stood up to that baboon. Some of you think very lowly of yourselves, that you have nothing to give the ministry of the Church, this text meets you head on. Let this strengthen you, let this silence your fears. You need to be reminded that God is pleased to use the foolish to shame the wise, and the weak to win battles against the strong. On the other hand some of you think very highly of yourselves, this text also meets you head on. Let this humble you, let this silence your boasting. You need to be reminded as Saul was that God doesn’t need you to win His battles.
Remember v6, ‘Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.’ Is God limited in any way to save us and work mightily through us today? No. Not at all. So then, how should our lives change in view of 1 Samuel 14:1-23? Rather than living life in fear, or worry, or angst in any circumstance we find ourselves in, and rather than living life confident in our own abilities God calls us as His people to live lives of faith – trusting Him to do and accomplish what we’re unable to do and accomplish.
But here’s the rub: we can’t live like this. If you’re honest wouldn’t you say your life far more resembles the pragmatism of Saul rather than the faithfulness of Jonathan? Because of sin our hearts come into this world trusting in what our eyes can see rather than what God tells us in His Word (which is where we find the will of God for our lives). We trust our experience over the book of Ephesians, and we look to Oprah for direction and guidance before we look to Obadiah. This is our natural bent. But in spite of our inability to live lives of faith, here’s our hope. God sent His Son into the world to show the world that we cannot save ourselves and that only He can. So this passage is not mainly about what you and I must do to live lives of deep and bold faith like Jonathan, this passage is mainly about what Jesus has done for us. How?
The same reality present in Jonathan’s faith-filled action is present in Jesus’ life. 1) Just as Jonathan and His armor bearer looked crazy/foolish to the Philistines, so too, Jesus looked crazy/foolish to the world of His day. 2) Just as Jonathan and his armor bearer charged boldly into battle trusting God to act, so too Jesus boldly faced death on a cross trusting God to accomplish and finish the redemption of His people. 3) Just as God saved Israel through the seeming foolish faith of Jonathan, so too, it is now through faith in the seeming foolish death and resurrection of Jesus that God now saves us.
Remember what we’re learning in 1 Samuel: what often looks like strength to the world, is none other than weakness to God. And what often looks like foolishness to the world, is none other than salvation to God. This has been present in the comparisons between: Eli and young Samuel, Saul and Samuel, Saul and Jonathan here, and soon we’ll see it in Saul and David.
Here we find the key to living a life of deep and bold faith. We can’t do it, but God can. So the faith we’re called to have isn’t faith in our own ability, it isn’t faith in what we can do for ourselves. No. The kind of faith this passage calls us to is a deep and bold trust in and reliance upon God’s ability to do in us and through us what we can’t do for ourselves. It’s this faith that looks foolish to the world, but it’s only this kind of faith that saves, and it’s only this kind of faith that can face life’s biggest battles.
In this manner Paul boasts in his letter to the Galatians, in 2:20 saying, ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.’