By Ronny Milliner
Most of the accomplishments of King Saul are things of which one would not be proud. He was greatly successful in at least one thing. He raised a fine son in Jonathan.
It is indeed rare that a son will rise above his father’s faith, but such was truly the case with Jonathan. Of course, we really do not know how much of an influence that Saul had on his son. It may very well be that Jonathan’s mother or even someone outside the family would be primarily responsible for molding the character of this fine young man.
One of the outstanding events in the life of Jonathan is his successful attack on the Philistines in 1 Samuel 14:1-4. We can learn several good traits about Jonathan from this event that would be worthy of our imitation.
As the chapter begins, notice the contrast between the action of the prince and the action of the other people. The first verse speaks of Jonathan, “And the day came that Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man bearing his armor, ‘Come, and we will go over to the fort of the Philistines on the other side.’ But he did not tell his father.” Verses two and three tell about the rest of the people “waiting at the edge of Gibeah.” While everyone else was just sitting Jonathan had an objective. His goal was the Philistine fort.
How many churches are “waiting at the edge of Gibeah” today because they have no objectives? Year after year passes by and very little is accomplished. We follow the same routine and are often content with “keeping house.”
Why not set some goals for the church? What do we want to accomplish in the next two years? Where do we want to be five years from now. Jesus set a goal for the apostles (Matt. 28:19-20; Mk. 16:15), and they met it (Col. 1:23). With God’s help so can we.
Jonathan had set a great objective, but before he obtained it he had to overcome some obstacles. Verses four and five read, “And between the passages by which Jonathan sought to go over to the Philistine fort, there was a rocky crag on the other side, and a rocky crag on the other side; and the name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other, Seneh. The one crag was on the north in front of Gibeah.” The obstacles were so great that it is later stated that “Jonathan went up on his hands and on his feet” (14:13). Jonathan would have to overcome these obstacles if he meant to meet his goal.
Think of all the obstacles that stood in the way of the apostles in their effort to preach the gospel to the world. Reading 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 will remind us of some of these things. We can expect Satan to do all he can to hinder us in our efforts for good. Let us have the faith by which we can remove the mountains of obstacles (Matt. 17:20).
Verses six and seven record the optimistic faith of Jonathan. He said to his armor-bearer, “It may be Jehovah will work for us, for there is no hindrance to Jehovah, to save by many or by few.” Jonathan knew that the odds against him did not matter as long as he had God on his side.
We need this same optimistic spirit when it comes to our work in the Lord’s vineyard. There are too much negative expressions and doubts when his work is being planned. How many good efforts have been shot down by “It won’t do any good”? Instead of this attitude, let’s say with Paul, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).
In 1 Samuel 14:8-12 Jonathan suggests a way that he could be assured of the victory from God. Having received the sign from God he observed, “Come up after me, for Jehovah has given them into the land of Israel” (14:12).
How observant are we to the opportunities that God has set before us? When an associate at work asks us a religious question do we see this as an opportunity to invite him to have a thorough study on the topic, or do we give him a short answer and forget it? When the community around a church building is rapidly growing does the church see this opportunity to grow as well? Heed the words of Jesus, “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the field, for they are already white for harvest!” (Jn. 4:35)
The outcome of Jonathan’s effort is that he “struck twenty men in about half of a furrow of an acre of a field” (14:13-14). Jonathan’s victory was also an encouragement to the rest of Israel’s army to pursue the fleeing Philistines.
With the kind of faith and actions that were characteristic of Jonathan we also can attain the victory over our foes. Taking up the whole armor of God we will “be able to withstand in the evil day” (Eph. 6:13). Yea, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37).
Yes, Jonathan was certainly Saul’s successful son. By imitating his good example we too can be successful soldiers in the Lord’s army. “Come, and we will go over to the fort of the Philistines” (1 Sam. 14:1).
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 18, p. 560
September 15, 1988