By James M. Jonas
For whatever was written in earlier times was “written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). If you have not yet discovered the treasure chest of the Old Testament, my hope for this article is that it will give you just a taste of the riches that can be found therein. From depths of despair to pinnacles of pleasure, through bitter failures and glorious triumphs, one is led along the path of time with the characters of old. All of the pearls of instruction, the gems of encouragement and the richness of hope are free for our taking but more often than not they lie in their chest untouched beneath settled dust. Take out your chest, brush away the time and let’s sample some treasure.
In the First book of Samuel, we are introduced to a character of unsurpassed courage and trust in the Lord. Although he was the son of a king, although he was the beloved companion and friend of another king, and although he was a valiant and courageous servant of the Lord, he is a character often overlooked when the Bible greats are mentioned. His name is Jonathan, the son of King Saul and devoted friend of David, Saul’s successor to the throne.
Jonathan was a man afflicted by many hurtful circumstances. While he should have been heir to his father’s throne, Saul’s wickedness caused God to rend the kingdom from Saul and his descendants and give it unto David (1 Sam. 13:13-14; 15:26-28). Yet, Jonathan was neither bitter nor jealous toward David concerning this. On the contrary, he even loved David greatly (1 Sam. 18:3-4; 20:18-42). Throughout his life Jonathan found himself torn between his loyalty to David and his obedience to his father but never was there found an occasion for animosity in his heart. He remained true to both sides without compromise for either. But perhaps the most inspiring event of this man’s life involved an incident of faith and trust in his relationship with God.
The 14th chapter of 1 Samuel finds the Philistines threatening the children of God and entrenched in the Israelite city of Michmash. The appearance of the Philistine army was an awesome display: 30,000 chariots, 6,000 horsemen and people numbered as the sand of the sea (13:5). The magnitude of the army coupled with the cowardice of the Israelites had sent the greater majority of the population scurrying for the shelter of caves, cellars, woods and neighboring countries (13:6-7). Some even defected and joined sides with the Philistines (14:21). Only Saul, Jonathan and 600 warriors were left to face the Philistines, and these few encamped in Geba which was only a short distance from Michmash (13:15-16).
It is in this setting of cheerless gloom and apparent hopelessness that the courage and faith of Jonathan brilliantly shines forth. All those around him were shivering in faithless fright forgetting the countless times that the Lord’s hand had delivered them from their enemies. It hadn’t been very long ago that the Lord had driven these very same Philistines out of the land under Samuel (7:9-14). Even Jonathan’s own father and God’s chosen leader of the nation was found wanting in his willingness to take a stand and fight. In the face of the massive Philistine host and surrounded by his own fearful countrymen: “Then Jonathan said to the young man who was carrying his armor, ‘Come and let us cross over the garrison of these uncircumcised-, perhaps the Lord will work for us, for the Lord is not restrained to save by many or by few. . . (14:6). What incredible faith and trust Jonathan had in the Lord! How often we falter in the face of adversity because our wavering trust in the Lord causes us to lose sight of Him.
It seems that so often we let the influence of others rub off on us and we end up conforming and compromising with the rest. But not Jonathan. It would have been easy for him to say, “Well, since nobody else is going out to fight I’m not going either.” It would have also been easy for him to be overcome by the size of the foe and he could have said, “I might as well not even try because I probably couldn’t win anyway.” But he didn’t.
What Jonathan did do was go out, only he and his armor bearer, and with the help of God slay twenty Philistines 13 and put the rest of the army to flight (14:14-20). You see, Jonathan recognized the very same principle that you and I must recognize as Christians, and it is also the same one Paul wrote the Roman Christians about in Romans 8:31: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” What Jonathan realized is that an army of one man plus God constitutes a majority in any battle to be fought.
Friends, when we depend upon our own abilities and resources to fight our battles and we forget about God, we’re going to find ourselves severely lacking. The result is not only going to be failure, but failure to even try. The only thing that stood between the Israelites and victory was a frame of mind. The question was not could they defeat the Philistines, but would they? It was Jonathan’s faith and trust in the Lord that defeated the Philistines, not his military expertise. When we are working the will of God, what enemy is too formidable to be overcome?
As Christians, our warfare against Satan is not physical or fleshly in nature, but it is a warfare of the spirit and of the mind (2 Cor. 10:3-5). However, the principles of war do not change. Satan had deceived the Israelites and Saul into thinking they could not defeat the Philistines. Even though it was a lie, as long as they believed it to be true, it kept them from winning the battle. Is it not the same today? Do not our fears and failures as Christians result from how we think and feel about the situation instead of what the situation really is? I think it happens something like this: (1) we slowly and almost imperceptibly drift away from and lose sight of our Father; (2) realizing that something is now missing we try to take up the slack by trusting in our own abilities; (3) we soon become insecure because we know that we are inadequate to the task and (4) we wind up in discouragement, despair and failure. Either we give it a halfhearted effort or we won’t try at all.
Be a Jonathan. Fight the fight of faith with courage and bravery, trusting and relying on the Lord’s strength and His promises to care for you. As you face the foe, no matter how fearful and dreaded he may appear, remember that the Lord is standing on your side. “If God is for us, who is against us? “
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 9, pp. 269-270
May 3, 1984