By Many or By Few (I Samuel 13:15b-14:23)
Topic: I Samuel Passage: 1 Samuel 13:15–14:23
Crying for a King
I. One Plus God
This morning as we open God’s word and hear from God himself, I want you to keep this saying in mind. “God plus one always equals a majority.” This morning we once again resume our study of I Samuel. So turn with me to I Samuel chapter 13, we’ll begin in the second half of verse 15.
II. The Passage: "Come, Let Us Go Over” (13:15b-14:23)
Now remember, or let me fill you in about, what happened last week as we looked at the first half of chapter 13. Israel’s dominant enemy, the Philistines, who have taken land from the Israelites, who are controlling large sections of Israel, the Philistines have been stirred up and have come out to attack the Israelites forces led by Saul the King, and his son Jonathan.
But in verse 9 of chapter 13, we read that Saul makes a foolish decision. Instead of trusting God and following the instructions of Samuel, God’s prophet, Saul feels pressured by the circumstances to take matters into his own hands and so he offers a sacrifice to God that he believes will ensure his victory in battle.
But sadly, Saul’s rejection of God’s word leads to God’s rejection of Saul’s kingdom. And in the first half of verse 15, we read about another consequence of Saul’s foolish decision: Samuel, the prophet, Saul’s only source of divine guidance, has left. Saul is on his own.
A. Israel’s Desperate Circumstances (13:15b-23)
So even though Samuel is gone, this is what we read starting in the second half of verse 15…
The rest of the people went up after Saul to meet the army; they went up from Gilgal to Gibeah of Benjamin. And Saul numbered the people who were present with him, about six hundred men. 16 And Saul and Jonathan his son and the people who were present with them stayed in Geba of Benjamin, but the Philistines encamped in Michmash. 17 And raiders came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies. One company turned toward Ophrah, to the land of Shual; 18 another company turned toward Beth-horon; and another company turned toward the border that looks down on the Valley of Zeboim toward the wilderness. 19 Now there was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, “Lest the Hebrews make themselves swords or spears.” 20 But every one of the Israelites went down to the Philistines to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, or his sickle, 21 and the charge was two-thirds of a shekel for the plowshares and for the mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening the axes and for setting the goads. 22 So on the day of the battle there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people with Saul and Jonathan, but Saul and Jonathan his son had them. 23 And the garrison of the Philistines went out to the pass of Michmash.
Now, I don’t think we have to spend a whole lot of time on these verses. I think the main thing we need to see here, the author’s main point here is fairly clear: Saul’s situation just went from “bad” to “worse”. Look at how he sets up the scene with one description after another of bad news.
First, verse 15 tells us that Saul’s army has dropped from about 3000 men (cf. v. 2) to only 600. Second, verses 17 and 18 tell us that the huge Philistine force is dividing up into three regiments, going off in three different directions to surround the Israelites. Clearly, the Philistines have the superior army and the tactical advantage. Third, we see in verses 19-22 that because the Philistines did not permit blacksmiths to operate in Israel, Saul’s soldiers were without swords or spears. To add insult to injury, part of the funding for the Philistine army was coming from the Israelites themselves, since they had to pay a hefty fee to the Philistines to sharpen their tools and farming equipment. Fourth, the final verse here simply describes how the Philistines were advancing, moving even closer to Saul and his men.
So not only does Saul not have Samuel’s guidance, which is God’s guidance, but he’s also figuratively and literally between a rock and a hard place. Now, if you found yourself in this situation, against these kinds of odds, what would you do? How would you feel?
B. Jonathan’s Desperate Scheme? (14:1-5)
So with all this in mind, listen to the story that writer begins to tell us in chapter 14:
One day Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side.” But he did not tell his father. 2 Saul was staying in the outskirts of Gibeah in the pomegranate cave at Migron. The people who were with him were about six hundred men, 3 including Ahijah the son of Ahitub, Ichabod's brother, son of Phinehas, son of Eli, the priest of the Lord in Shiloh, wearing an ephod. And the people did not know that Jonathan had gone. 4 Within the passes, by which Jonathan sought to go over to the Philistine garrison, there was a rocky crag on the one side and a rocky crag on the other side. The name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh. 5 The one crag rose on the north in front of Michmash, and the other on the south in front of Geba.
Now, at first, these verses seem to be part of the same sad assessment we found at the end of chapter 13. Saul’s son Jonathan seems to be hatching some hair-brain scheme in which he and some teenager are going to stroll over a very rocky canyon and cause trouble among the thousands of Philistines gathered on the opposite bluff.
It all sounds like the proverbial apple isn’t falling too far from the tree in terms of foolishness…until…until verse 1 here reminds us of verse 3 in the last chapter (13:3):
Jonathan defeated the garrison of the Philistines that was at Geba, and the Philistines heard of it.
So Jonathan is no stranger to Philistine garrisons. And in fact, the rocky terrain described so carefully by the writer here might actually be to Jonathan’s advantage.
So while his father is sitting in a cave, Jonathan, without his father’s permission (which he would probably never get, even if he asked), Jonathan is ready to act.
C. Jonathan’s Triumphant Faith (14:6-15)
Look at how the story continues in verse 6-15:
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.” 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.” 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.”
Let me stop there for a second. We see very clearly in verse 6 that Jonathan’s scheme has not been inspired by arrogance, or ignorance, or foolishness, or misinformation. It’s been inspired by faith, faith in what God can accomplish. And his armor-bearer seems to be feasting on this same faith.
So do you see how this plan is supposed to go? First, Jonathan and his armor-bearer will climb down undetected behind the rocky crag on the south side, down to the canyon floor. Then they will yell up to some of the Philistine forces who are camped on the edge above. If the men respond that they are coming down, then the two Israelites will do nothing. But if the men invite them to come up (which is far less likely to happen), they will take it as a sign that God is with them.
So let’s see if Jonathan was successful here. Picking up again in verse 11:
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.” [or “come up and we’ll teach you a lesson”] And Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Come up after me, for the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel.” 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. 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 when Jonathan hears the response he was hoping to hear, he and the armor-bearer climb up, again undetected, behind the other rocky outcropping on the north side of the gorge.
Meanwhile, the Philistines have probably written off the two Israelites and assumed they went back into hiding. Big mistake, right?
What happens next sounds like it came right out of some action sequence from a summer blockbuster. Jonathan takes on twenty men, and if he doesn’t kill them right away, then his armor bearer, who is positioned right behind him, finishes them off.
What happens next seems to be divine intervention. Notice in verse 15 it says that “the earth quaked”. The Hebrew word for “panic” or “terror” is the same word translated “tremble’ here. Jonathan’s faith has opened up the floodgates of God’s judgment against the Philistines.
D. Israel’s Triumphant Turnaround (14:16-23)
So listen as the writer’s attention turns back to Saul and the rest of the Israelite army. Vs. 16:
And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked, and behold, the multitude [of the Philistines, that is] was dispersing here and there. 17 Then Saul said to the people who were with him, “Count and see who has gone from us.” And when they had counted, behold, Jonathan and his armor-bearer were not there. 18 So Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring the ark of God here.” For the ark of God went at that time with the people of Israel. 19 Now while Saul was talking to the priest, the tumult in the camp of the Philistines increased more and more. So Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand.” 20 Then Saul and all the people who were with him rallied and went into the battle. And behold, every Philistine's sword was against his fellow, and there was very great confusion. 21 Now the Hebrews who had been with the Philistines before that time and who had gone up with them into the camp, even they also turned to be with the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. 22 Likewise, when all the men of Israel who had hidden themselves in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were fleeing, they too followed hard after them in the battle. 23 So the Lord saved Israel that day. And the battle passed beyond Beth-aven.
So when Saul hears this panic breaking out in the Philistine camp, and then finds out that Jonathan is missing, he turns to Ahijah the priest in the hopes of receiving some divine guidance about what to do next.
But when the sounds of panic intensify, Saul knows it’s time to act. And so when the Israelites get over there, not only are there more Hebrews joining them, but they find the Philistines killing…one another.
So the fighting is not over, not yet. But God has rescued the Israelites from certain doom as the Philistines had them surrounded before Jonathan stepped out. Now, it is the Philistines who are on the run.
III. Perspective: The Secret Weapon of Faith
So what do we take away from this story? What should stand out to us here?
Well, I think one of the clearest things we need to see here is the contrast between Saul and Jonathan, between father and son. All throughout chapters 13 and 14 we see the author’s focus bouncing back and forth between Saul and Jonathan. “Saul…now cut to Jonathan. Now cut back to Saul. Now back to Jonathan.” And so on.
But as these two men are held up next to each other, what contrast are we supposed to see? One is older, one is younger? One has more troops, one has less? One is a good soldier, the other a mediocre general? One is spontaneous, the other cautious? One is courageous, the other is fearful?
While some of that is true, the real contrast in chapters 13 and 14 has to come down to the issue of faith. Which of these men really trusts in God? How can we tell? We can tell by their actions! While faith is something that happens on the inside, we see can faith when it acts!
Saul seemed very interested in the small number of soldiers he had with him, while Jonathan seems disinterested in the huge number of Philistines camped across from him.
Saul had a sword and spear, but did nothing with them. Jonathan had a sword and spear, and put them to good use.
Saul stayed on the outskirts, while Jonathan plotted on the frontlines.
Saul sought divine guidance on the sidelines by looking to a priest who came from the cursed house of Eli. Jonathan sought divine guidance as he stepped out in faith, looking back to the victories God had already won time and time again for Israel.
Saul would not act, even when he knew his own son’s life was on the line (v. 17). Jonathan acts without regard for his own life.
The contrast could not be clearer; it could not be more stark.
Up to this point in Samuel, we have been given very few examples of genuine faith. But we have seen, time and time again, how Israel’s lack of faith has resulted in loss, in pain, in wickedness, and even death.
So the author here wants to make sure his readers see the blessings of faith. He wants them to see how God uses faith powerfully. I’d rather not say that faith is powerful, because that might lead us to put the emphasis in the wrong place. No, God is powerful. Faith is simply a conduit for channeling and unleashing the power of God.
But let’s think more carefully about what Jonathan’s faith can teach us about our faith. The key verse is 14:6. Look at it again: 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.”
We find in that verse two features of genuine faith. Genuine faith is trusting in God’s great power; but it also means trusting in God’s good pleasure.
Jonathan’s faith does not need to consider the size of the Philistine army. It doesn’t matter. He knows that “God plus one [or in this case, God plus two] is always a majority.” This is the same God who brought Egypt to its knees. This is the same God who divided the Red Sea and destroyed the army of Pharaoh. This is the same God, who not long before this (in chapter 7), routed the Philistines by thundering from heaven. He can save by many. He can save by few. He can save when no one is willing to stand up in faith. He is God.
But genuine faith also means trusting in the God’s good pleasure, that is, that God can not only do what he wants, but he can do it when he wants, with whom he wants, or maybe not even at all. Listen to how one commentator expresses this idea:
“And how refreshing to hear Jonathan’s “perhaps”. “Perhaps Yahweh will acts for us.[perhaps the Lord will work for us”] Many in our own day think otherwise. They think that to say “perhaps” cuts the nerve of faith, that if faith is faith it must always be certain, dogmatic, and absolutely positive. Faith, however, must not be confused with arrogance. Jonathan’s “perhaps” is part of his faith. He both confesses the power of Yahweh and retains the freedom of Yahweh. Faith does not dictate to God, as if the Lord of hosts is its errand boy.”
You see Jonathan’s faith caused him to be spontaneous and courageous, but not presumptuous. Instead of declaring what God will do or must do, Jonathan steps out, in faith, into the waters of uncertainty in order to wait on God. If God said “go”, he would go. If God said “stay”, he would stay.
Genuine faith is trusting in God’s great power; but it also means trusting in God’s good pleasure.
IV. Practice: Faith in the Midst of God’s Enemies
What about us this morning? How do we put this message into practice? Are you inspired by Jonathan’s example? Do you want to have faith like this? All of us should want this kind of faith.
This morning, camped out all around us, are the enemies of God: unbelief, apathy, abuse, marital strife, blasphemy, greed, pornography, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, self-centeredness, vanity, laziness, bitterness, unforgiveness, impatience, anger, a lack of respect for parents, a lack of respect for any authority, false teaching, faithlessness, deception, ungratefulness.
All of these expressions of sin, and many more, are camped all around us, in our community, on our street, and even in our own homes. And people are suffering at the hands of God’s enemies. Look around. Do you see the casualties? So what will you do about it? What will we do about it?
“Well, I can’t do anything about it. I’m just one person.” someone might say. “What real difference can a small church like ours make?” someone might declare. “I don’t have…we don’t have enough money or training or time or intelligence or influence or experience. I can barely fight back God’s enemies within my own heart.”
But what does the faith of Jonathan say? It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.
It doesn’t matter how many of us there are. It doesn’t matter how much we have of this or that…except when it comes to our possession of faith.
Are you ready to cross the gorge? Are you ready to move forward in faith, waiting on God, to see what He will do?
Are you ready to introduce yourself to and/or get to know your neighbors? Are you ready to join a softball team and build some relationships? Are you ready to learn how to share the gospel? Are you ready to share your faith with your co-workers? Are you ready to identify needs in your neighborhood, needs that this church family can help you address? Are you ready to open up your home? Are you ready to take a meal to a hurting family? Are you ready to call a visitor and say, “It was so good to have you”? Are your ready to spend time with hurting people? Are you ready to learn how to minister to hurting people? Are you ready to pray…are you ready to pray for God’s power to be unleashed through you in this community? Are you ready to keep praying?
If we are willing to do this in faith… It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few. Do you believe that?
The so-called faith of Saul was a faith that sat back where it was safe and waited for the red carpet of certainty to be rolled out before it. But the genuine faith of Jonathan step forward, in spite of the risks, because it trusted that God is in control…and that God wants to save!
Faith and salvation are intertwined in this story, aren’t they? It made me think of another passage about faith and salvation: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…
Isn’t that incredible? Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, in grace, we can go forward trusting in God to save. Whether we’re talking about our own faith or the faith we hope to see in others, “it is not [our] own doing; it is the gift of God…” The battle always belongs to the Lord.
And God has given us another gift as well. It is the gift of one another. Jonathan didn’t go out alone, did he? God gave him a companion in faith. Don’t you love how Jonathan’s armor-bearer responded to him in 14:7: 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.”
Brothers and sisters, this is what we need to be saying to each other! “I am with you, heart and soul! I am with you in prayer! I am with you in fellowship, in training, in encouragement, in resources, in time…in good times and in bad. I am with you!”
May God give us victory in this community, for the sake of Jesus, for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of new life for those who so desperately need to be rescued. Let’s pray and ask God to do this in and through us for His glory and the good of those around us!