Love Came Down with Courage

flowers in canyonThis Week’s Reading: 1 Samuel 3-14

Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel, Saul chose for himself three thousand men of Israel. Two thousand were with Saul in Michmash and in the mountains of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin. The rest of the people he sent away, every man to his tent.

And Jonathan attacked the garrison of the Philistines that was in Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. Then Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, “Let the Hebrews hear!” Now all Israel heard it said that Saul had attacked a garrison of the Philistines, and that Israel had also become an abomination to the Philistines. And the people were called together to Saul at Gilgal.

Then the Philistines gathered together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the seashore in multitude. And they came up and encamped in Michmash, to the east of Beth Aven. When the men of Israel saw that they were in danger (for the people were distressed), then the people hid in caves, in thickets, in rocks, in holes, and in pits. And some of the Hebrews crossed over the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead.

As for Saul, he was still in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling. ( 1 Samuel 13:1-6)

King Saul, first king of Israel, relied on God of Israel for victory in battle, but his patience was meager. Throughout his reign, Saul had a short trigger and often operated rashly.  Without fear of the Lord, Saul’s disconnect from God cost his nation dearly. As king, Saul lead by threats and intimidation. Rather than encourage his unarmed nation to trust in God, Saul commanded his army to fast until the battle was won, cursing anyone who ate with death until their battle was victorious. It was pathetic.

flowers and panorama clearJonathan, Saul’s son, prince of Israel operated in a different spirit. In contrast to leading by threats, Jonathan encouraged and modelled faith in God:

“Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the Lord will work for us. For nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few.” So his armor bearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Go then; here I am with you, according to your heart.””

Then Jonathan said, “Very well, let us cross over to these men, and we will show ourselves to them. If they say thus to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place and not go up to them. But if they say thus, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up. For the Lord has delivered them into our hand, and  this will be a sign to us.” (1 Samuel 14:6-7)

Armed with faith, Jonathan and his armor-bearer left the camp and set in motion a chain of extraordinary events. After seeking God, Jonathan and his aide climbed up a sheer cliff on their hands and knees to face an armed enemy high above in an impenetrable fort. Each time a Philistine came after Jonathan, the armor bearer killed him and vice versa. Twenty men died at their hands and then God really started showing off:

And there was trembling in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. The garrison and the raiders also trembled; and the earth quaked, so that it was a very great trembling. Now the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked, and there was the multitude, melting away; and they went here and there. (1 Samuel 14: 15,16)

grim canyonAfter releasing an earthquake, the courage of these two Israelites and God’s power proved too much for the pagan army. Terrified they trembled and ran from Jonathan, turning on each other and fleeing from the fierce God of Israel, like bullies on a playground suddenly being confronted by an angry Father.

When Saul heard the uproar of confusion and fear coming from the Philistines, instead of facing the enemy, he commanded a roll call and began an inquiry at the ark of God. As the noise of battle continued to increase, Saul finally commanded his men of six hundred to attack the fleeing army.

Other Israelites join the fight. When Israelites who had joined the Philistine camp saw that this army of millions was in panic and chaos, they began to fight them within the camp. Israelites hiding in the caves in the mountains, streamed into the fray and fought as well. All day long, this outnumbered army slaughtered the enemy who had oppressed them for decades.

The day should have ended with celebration and cheers. It almost ended with an execution.

When Saul approached the Lord for further battle strategy, after that initial conquest, God did not speak. Upon inquiring of the priest, Jonathan was identified as the problem.  Without remorse, Saul ordered the execution of his son.  Jonathan had not known of Saul’s order banning eating, since he was engaged in fighting the enemy when Saul’s foolish order was given. If the people of Israel had not intervened citing the miraculous battle which Jonathan accomplished against the Philistines, this faithful prince of Israel would have been executed for eating a taste of honey.

blue skyDisconnect is dangerous. As Christians, we are positioned as leaders, armed with potential and power wherever we go, whether or not we acknowledge this influence. Our faith, like Jonathan, can send the enemy running in every direction, shocked by our courage and scattered by our fierce determination to release God’s hand in our circumstance. Or, like Saul, we can operate by our reason, rule by our strength, and disconnected from God’s heart, make a mess wherever we go. Whether intentional or benign, we impact because the Spirit of Almighty God abides within. The outcome of good or evil by our influence depends on our connection to God and our trust in His Word.

Jonathan understood God to be good and powerful and expected His Help. Fearless, he took on the enemy of millions from his posture of trust in His God. Jonathan set in motion the miraculous by his expectation. He didn’t ascend the cliff without a sign from the Lord that the Philistines would state a specific challenge. But upon hearing that challenge repeated, up those two warriors went, for as Jonathan had declared, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the Lord will work for us. For nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few.”

Saul understood none of this. He saw God as a military tool, an instrument for battle, to be inquired of and honoured occasionally. In his own foolishness, he charged the troops to battle without provision and then threatened them with death should they disobey. In his arrogance, he prepared to kill whoever had sinned, not against God, but against himself, not relenting even when the man fingered was the hero of Israel, his own son.

Fearful and unwilling to enter the battle, Saul let weeks go by, waiting with his small troop of six hundred at Gibeah, while the million plus army of Philistines amassed their provisions. Disconnected, Saul could not access the help of the Lord, for Saul would not humble himself to depend on the God of Israel. If not for Jonathan, all of Israel would have been obliterated, and yet Saul was prepared to execute him for eating honey after a long day of battle.

2014-10-10 11.25.40Regrettably, sometimes Christianity in North America looks like Saul-styled religion. Samuel describes disconnected religiosity in his rebuke to Saul at Gibeah, saying:

You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you. ( 1 Samuel 13:13-14)

Let’s Pray:  O God, draw us after Your heart. Keep us from arrogance and pride and doubt, Lord Jesus. Help us to be persons of faith and action, like Jonathan, in times of great battle and stress. Holy Spirit of God, may we reach for truth every day, and stretch out our hands in worship to the Lord God Almighty, that in the test of battle, we will expect Your Good, and not operate out of our limited strength and understanding. May we be true agents of grace in this distracted and fearful world. Keep us connected to You, O Lord, that we may be persons seeking You alone. Amen

Study Questions:

  1. What battle did you experience where it felt like God was showing off for you, like He did for Jonathan?
  2. What type of leader are you? How do lead?  How does your relationship with God affect your leadership?
  3. Who leads you?
  4. What do you do when the battle circumstances of life overwhelm? Do you take matters into your own hands or seek God and keep seeking Him?
  5. How does your faith walk bring faith to others? How did Jonathan’s attack of the garrison bring courage?

Next Week’s Reading:  1 Samuel 15 – 22


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