Middle School Director, Brad Libolt spoke in “Big Church” Sunday on 1st Samuel 14:6-15. He spoke about the faith of Jonathan and the armor-bearer in the Israelites battle against the Philistines. Encouraging us to be like the armor-bearer, the humble servant, who was with his master heart and soul, trusting him with his life, and believing in who his God was, what he had done, and what he had promised to do.
- In 480 BC King Xerxes was moving his million man Persian army through Greece. In late August, early September he fought the Spartans and a few other Greek city-states in the Battle of Thermopylae. This battle is remembered because of how outnumbered the Greeks were. The story of the battle would be retold for centuries, getting further from the true events that happened, but emphasizing the bravery and patriotism of the Spartan soldiers. In the 90’s Frank Miller retold the story in a comic series titled 300, and in 2006 Zach Snyder adapted Miller’s comic into film, using the same name. And in Frank Miller’s depiction of the story, the Spartan king, King Leonidas, takes 300 of his best troops to meet the Persians at Thermopylae. The location of the battle was also called the Hot Gates, because of the narrow mountain pass from the coast to the inland. Leonidas’ plan was to use his Spartan’s superior fighting skill and the narrow mountain pass to hold off Xerxes’ army and protect their homeland. The battle lasted seven epic days, and the Spartan’s proved to be too great of a match for anything Xerxes could throw at them. Numbers didn’t matter because of the narrowness of the pass, and the Spartan’s won battle after battle, until eventually, they are betrayed by a fellow Greek and Xerxes finds a path that leads to Leonidas’ flank. Once the Spartan’s are flanked, the battle is over, and they fight until every last man is dead, including King Leonidas.
- In the eyes of the Persians, it was a minor setback in which they suffered few casualties but defeated the Spartan king. In the eyes of the Greeks, however, it was a victorious display of courage, bravery, patriotism, and valor. King Leonidas would be considered a hero, and the 300 Spartan’s who lost their lives in battle were an inspiration to the rest of Greece to pick up arms and fight their oppressors.
- Leonidas had great faith in who his men were, what they had done, and what he knew they could do, and we are going to see in this story today that Jonathan had great faith in who his God was, what he had done, and what he had promised he would do.
- Jonathan’s battle was an impossible one as well. Look briefly at chapter 13 verse 5, it says the Philistines mustered to fight with Israel thirty thousand chariots, six thousand horsemen, and troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude. This is a massive army. So massive, that it scared the Israelites silly. In verse 6 of chapter 13 it says that people hid themselves in caves and holes and rocks and tombs and cisterns, others just took off and got out of dodge, and we learn later that others even joined the Philistines. The ones who remained followed King Saul trembling. And there weren’t many who remained. In chapter 13 verse 15 and in verse 2 in chapter 14 we learn that Saul had about 600 men with him.
- So think of this like a boxing match. You know in the red corner, standing at 6’ 5” weighting in at 250 pounds of pure muscle, the Philistines! And in the blue corner, standing at a mere 5’1” and weighting 130 pounds soaking wet, the Israelites!
- The Israelites are severely outnumbered, but they are also outgunned. Look at verse 19 and following in chapter 13. The Israelites had no weapons. All they had was farming tools that they had to pay the Philistines to sharpen.
- I grew up on a farm and there was always farm equipment around. My brother and I used to play with the pieces of farm equipment and have sword fights with pieces of machinery or wrenches or something, and this is what I picture the Israelites looking like. Kids playing with farm equipment.
- So back to the boxing match, not only is the guy in the blue corner a lot smaller than the other guy, but his hands are tied behind his back.
- This is the context we have to put ourselves in when we read this story about Jonathan. What he is about to do, is impossible. No man can take on this kind of fight alone.
6 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.”
- Jonathan is tired of his father being indecisive and afraid, and decides to take matters into his own hands. So he goes up to his armor-bearer, the guy who would have carried around all his gear, and has this brilliant idea. He’s like, “Hey, let’s go over to these foolish Philistines, these uncircumcised.” Calling them uncircumcised would have been kind of a derogatory term, indicating that they are not part of God’s chosen people. So now, the small guy in the blue corner is talking trash. But look what he says. He says it may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.” Jonathan isn’t confident in his own fighting ability or what he thinks he can do, he is confident in who the Lord is. Jonathan trusts in who God is. Jonathan trusts in the promises God has made to his people. God promised that Saul would save his people from the hand of the Philistines back in chapter 9, and Jonathan remembers this and believes the time for God to save his people is now. He trusts that God will fulfill the promises he has made to his people.
- Do you trust that God will fulfill the promises he has made to you, even when it seems impossible? Jonathan is staring an enemy in his face that he knows he cannot defeat on his own. He’s no fool, he knows he is outmanned and outgunned, but he trusts that God will be faithful to his promises to Israel, and trusts that God can save by many or by few. He knows that at the end of the day, it will be God doing the saving, not himself or anyone else.
- Jonathan’s courage as he trusts in a God who has proven himself to be over and over again is admirable, and something we should strive for. God has already done so much in your life, just like he had done so much for the Israelites, he has made promises to you in his word just like he made promises to the Israelites. Do you remember what God has done and the promises he has made and trust in who he is? Or do you forget who God is and what he’s done, and cower in fear like Saul and the rest of the Israelites?
- We do this all the time. Think about your car. You believe that it’s a car, you remember that it got you from point a to point b yesterday, and you trust that it is going to get you from point a to point b today. If it is so easy to trust in our car, why is it so difficult to trust in God, who has done more than taken us from point a to point b, but who has taken us from darkness, to light. From death, to life. From sin, to righteousness.
- Let’s look at what happens next.
7 And his armor-bearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.”
- So the armor-bearer proves to be just as crazy as Jonathan. He’s like, “Yep, whatever you want to do John I’m on your heals.” So the armor-bearer has an incredible amount of trust in Jonathan, who has a lot of trust in God. He is with Jonathan heart and soul, every ounce of his being is with Jonathan. He’s on board with whatever this crazy guy wants to do.
8 Then Jonathan said, “Behold, we will cross over to the men, and we will show ourselves to them. 9 If they say to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place, and we will not go up to them. 10 But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up, for the Lord has given them into our hand. And this shall be the sign to us.”
- So with his armor-bearer on board, Jonathan comes up with a plan. He says they will cross over to the Philistine’s garrison, and show themselves to the Philistines. If the Philistines say they are going to come to them, then Jonathan and his armor-bearer are going to stand in their place. But, if the Philistines tell them to come up to them, then sure enough, the Lord has given the Philistines into the hand of Jonathan and his armor-bearer. That will be the sign.
- Now, to understand what is going on here we have to understand the geography of the area. The Israelites were camped in Geba, to the south, and the Philistines were at Michmash, to the north. And in between these two places was this deep ravine in the mountains. In verses 4 and 5 it explains how these cliffs faced both Geba and Michmash to the North and the South. So Jonathan and his armor-bearer, instead of going through the mountain pass, the easy route over to Michmash, chose to go through this ravine. So they rock climbed there way down the cliff on their side, and then were going to rock climb their way up the other side to the Philistines. So when they showed themselves to the Philistines, they would have been at the bottom of a deep ravine, where no battle would be taking place. Jonathan knew that the only way they could fight, was if they were up on the top of the cliff in the Philistine’s camp, and they could only get there if the Philistines invited them in. So if the Philistines decide to come down to them, there would be no battle, but if they are able to go up into the Philistine’s camp, then there will be a battle. And if there is a battle, they are going to win. The Lord is going to give them into their hand. So this is not a case of Jonathan testing God, it’s a display of Jonathan trusting God. There will either be a battle or their wont be, and if their is, God is going to win.
11 So both of them showed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines. And the Philistines said, “Look, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden themselves.” 12 And the men of the garrison hailed Jonathan and his armor-bearer and said, “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing.” And Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Come up after me, for the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel.”
- So they show themselves to the Philistine sentries on the edge of the cliff, and the Philistines do their own little trash talking, but then sure enough they tell them to come on up. They invite Jonathan and his armor-bearer into their camp. And why wouldn’t they? It’s two men, they don’t pose any kind of threat to an army of 30,000 chariots, 6,000 horsemen, and troops like the sand on the seashore. They had nothing to be afraid of.
- And look at Jonathan’s response, he says come on armor-bearer! The Lord has given them into the hand of Israel. Notice he says Israel, not his own hand. God’s promises were for Israel, and he was going to fulfill his promises through this battle today. But again, look at the confidence. Jonathan’s like, “Yep, we’ve won! Come on!” Before he has even drawn his sword.
- And we should notice something at this point. God has not spoken audibly to Jonathan. There has never been a point in this narrative where God has told Jonathan to go do something, or told him that he was going to do something, nothing like that. Jonathan is operating out of faith in who God is, what he has done, and what he has promised he will do.
- In our lives we sometimes freeze up because we are waiting for God to tell us to do something. We are waiting for God to tell us the right time to share the gospel with our coworker, or waiting for God to tell us to break up with our boyfriend, or waiting for God to tell us we should stop sinning. We sit around and we wait for God to tell us things he has already communicated to us through his word. He has told us to share the gospel. He has told us to make disciples. He has told us to live holy lives, free from the bondage of sin. He has laid everything out for us in his word, it’s all there, and we forget that so easily. We wait for a dream or vision or some kind of divine revelation, when often times it’s clearly written in Scripture what we should do.
- Imagine ordering a piece of furniture. You get the furniture, and you have to assemble it, and it comes with instructions. So you have the instructions and all the pieces, but instead of putting it together, you wait for the manufacturer to call you and tell you how to put it together. It’s silly right, you have the instructions right in front of you. But we do this with God. He has given us everything we need for life and godliness in his word, but we wait for him to tell us what to do.
- We freeze up because we forget who God is, what he’s done, and what he has promised he will do. We get fearful. We forget that God has promised to give us the words to say, that we have the Spirit inside of us when we are sharing the gospel. We forget that God can provide far more pleasure than any kind of sin we don’t want to stop doing. We forget that God has promised to be strong when we are weak, so we keep trying to fight our battles on our own and figure out life on our own, but we keep realizing we just aren’t strong enough. We forget who God is, what he’s done, and what he has promised he will do, and so we sit around and wait. We wait for God to tell us something, when often times the thing we are waiting for has already been communicated through his word.
- We’re getting to the good part so let’s keep reading.
13 Then Jonathan climbed up on his hands and feet, and his armor-bearer after him. And they fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer killed them after him. 14 And that first strike, which Jonathan and his armor-bearer made, killed about twenty men within as it were half a furrow’s length in an acre of land.
- So Jonathan and his armor bearer climb up over the cliff on their hands and knees, then stand up, and fight. Just imagine this. Two dudes climb up a cliff, they are probably sweaty and dirty and they get up there and the Philistine guards are probably laughing at them and mocking them, then they stand up, Jonathan draws his sword, and starts taking people out. It says the first strike killed about twenty men. Remember our boxing match, the bell rings, the little guy from the blue corner walks up, and delivers a knockout uppercut to the jaw. The Philistines didn’t see it coming.
- And notice who is right by Jonathan’s side, the whole time, doing his part, the faithful armor-bearer. He said he was with Jonathan heart and soul, and he has been just that the entire time.
- Look at verse 15 now.
15 And there was a panic in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. The garrison and even the raiders trembled, the earth quaked, and it became a very great panic.
- So as Jonathan and his armor-bearer are fighting like crazy, panic breaks out in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. The Philistines freak out. Then there is an earth quake, and it says it became a very great panic. This can also be translated as “a panic from God.” So finally, we see divine interaction. God steps in, shakes the earth, and sends people into a panic.
- And there are principals for ministry in this. Jonathan used the skills and gifts that God had given him. He climbed a cliff, was obviously a skilled swordsmen, probably a great strategist. He used his skills and his gifts and then God intervened. In the same way, we have been given gifts and skills and passions and things we are good at that we are supposed to use in ministry. God has given us those to use for his kingdom. But, at the end of the day, no matter how skilled or gifted we are, we gain nothing without divine interaction. Without God showing up and doing his saving work, our skills and gifts are nothing. So in this story we see an awesome picture of human skill and divine interaction working together for the purpose and glory of God.
- After this divine interaction, this earth quake and panic from God, you keep reading and see that the Philistines eventually turn on each other and start killing each other. Saul and his troops hear the commotion and join in, the Hebrews who switched sides switch back and start fighting for Israel, and the ones who ran and hid in the caves in the hills come out of their holes and join in the fight as well. The entire nation of Israel rallies behind the courage of Jonathan and they defeat the Philistines.
- Now we all probably want to be like Jonathan. And we all should want to be like Jonathan. Jonathan has incredible qualities we should emulate. But the reality is, is we aren’t like Jonathan. We are more like Saul and the other Israelites.
- When we face a battle or an enemy that seems too great to be defeated, we get scared. We forget who God is, so we stand in our place and just wait in fear. Or maybe we take off running. The sin is too great, the conversation too difficult, the person too different, and so we run the other way. We completely ignore our responsibilities as followers of Christ, and we try to hide from God like Adam and Eve did in the garden. Or maybe we just join the other side. We don’t like losing, so we take the side of the enemy.
- We all want to be like Jonathan, but the truth is, we aren’t. We are much more like the cowardly Saul and the trembling Israelites when it comes to difficult battles in our life. So we need a Jonathan. And our Jonathan is Jesus.
- This story of Jonathan defeating the Philistines is a moral story. It gives us principals to live by, characteristics to emulate, and shows us how to have Big God Theology and trust in who God is, what he’s done, and what he has promised he will do. It’s also a historical story. This story has major historical ramifications. The Israelites are saved from the Philistines, Jonathan is a hero, it is a crucial story for Israel from a historical standpoint. But most importantly, it is a gospel story. It’s a story that points us to Jesus.
- Look at chapter 13, starting in verse 13. Saul has just disobeyed God and done something stupid, and this is Samuel’s response. READ IT. So Saul disobeys, and is rejected as king for the first time. And in Samuel’s response to Saul he says that his kingdom will not reign forever, but the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and commanded him to be prince over his people. Then, directly after this, is the story of Jonathan, a prince over God’s people, as an image of the future king who will come and rule forever. Jonathan is offered as an image of the king to come, the messiah. Jonathan is an image of Jesus.
- The Philistines were Israel’s greatest enemy for generations. This story is about God’s chosen people and their greatest enemy. Jonathan saves God’s people from their greatest enemy, the Philistines, and Jesus saves God’s people, you and me, from our greatest enemy. We too are in a battle against sin and evil, our greatest enemy, and it is a battle we cannot win on our own. It is a battle that we run and hide from, and sometimes just give up. We need a Jonathan, we need Jesus to come and win our battle for us and deliver us from our greatest enemy.
- Just as Jonathan stepped into battle and defeated the Israelites enemy, so Jesus steps into battle, and he takes on our enemy. But he doesn’t win by sword or shield, he wins on a cross and in an empty tomb. Jesus takes our greatest enemy, our sin, our death, our shame, upon himself and goes to the cross. He is crucified and dies the death we deserve for our sin, but in doing so defeats our greatest enemy.
- Notice in verse 23 of chapter 14, it says the Lord saved Israel that day, and the battle passed beyond Beth-aven. The Israelites battle with the Philistines went on for generations. But our battle with sin ended once and for all at the empty grave that our savior walked out of. Jonathan defeated Israel’s greatest enemy and won peace for God’s people for a period of time, but Jesus defeated our greatest enemy and won peace for his people for eternity.
- So instead of being like Saul and running away from our battles afraid, let’s be like the armor-bearer. The humble servant, who was with his master heart and soul, trusting him with his life, and believing in who his God was, what he had done, and what he had promised to do.