1 Samuel 14:1-14 has been a very motivational passage for me for a long time. Hearing a sermon on this text 10 years ago was highly instrumental in pushing me to take the faith plunge to plant a church. There are several remarkable traits within this text:
1. Saul and Jonathan knew the same things about God
Saul and Jonathan both knew the same cognitive things about God. They both knew he was the only God and they both knew the Mosaic covenant (what we often call the “old covenant”). This covenant stated that if ancient Israel was faithful to God, God would give them the promised land, win their battles for them, along with giving them peace, fertility and many other blessings. It also stated if they were unfaithful to God and worshiped idols, God would bring disease, famine and devastation from warring nations, and they’d eventually lose their land.
So the scenario in 1 Samuel 14 is that Israel is under Philistine control and are now facing even further devastation from these enemies. Saul’s troops are vastly outnumbered, and mainly due to their leader’s cowardice, they are fleeing, hiding, and even joining the enemy ranks.
Oh, and there are only two swords left in Israel.
One for King Saul, and one for his son Jonathan.
Saul takes his sword and hides with his 600 remaining men on the outskirts under a pomegranate tree. I can picture Saul saying, “If I’m going to die, at least I’ll go out eating!”
Meanwhile Jonathan takes his sword, his armor bearer, and goes out to single-handedly take out the Philistines.
Was Jonathan cocky or arrogant or suicidal?
No, Jonathan believed the Scriptures.
The difference between Jonathan and Saul is that while they both knew the Scriptures, only Jonathan believed them. How do we know he believed them? He acted on them.
Jonathan knew that the Scriptures said the Philistines were not to be ruling over the Israelites. Jonathan knew that God would bring victory if the Israelites put their faith and allegiance in God. At that point, I believe it became pretty simple for Jonathan. It was time to take God at his word, and do what God said to do.
2. There’s no such thing as failure when you’re doing God’s will
I have always loved what Jonathan says to his armor-bearer in verse 6, “Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf.”
Jonathan just recruited his armor-bearer into a battle that, on human terms, looked like imminent death. If we were the armor-bearer, most of us would say, “Hey Jonathan, come back when you know God will bring us victory.” But again, Jonathan knew the Scriptures. He also knew something that so often gets lost in today’s Christian culture: obedience to God is done for obedience sake, not to get a kickback from God. The reward for Jonathan was doing what God told him to do and being able to look God in the eye someday and know he trusted and obeyed God’s sovereign plan. If God decided to bring a great victory and save their lives, that would be an added bonus.
The rest of verse 6 still remains true today, “Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.” Does this inspire you the way it did Jonathan?
What are you afraid of?
In Jonathan’s book, there’s no such thing as failure. Failure isn’t determined by the outcome, it’s determined by if we stay under the pomegranate tree or head into battle.
God wants to use you to bring his salvation to this earth.
He wants to use you to rescue the oppressed, to free the enslaved, to reconcile what’s broken and to bring sight to the blind.
You too have a sword. Will you have faith like Jonathan, or simply knowledge like Saul?
Further reading: James 2:14-26, Daniel 3