A man with God is always in the majority.
— John Knox
By David Tulis
Christianity elevates the individual and the commoner, the poor and the workman while subjecting kings and magistrates to obedience to God’s command that lords be fathers to their people or face overthrow in his sovereign decree.
It posits a personal God, creator of a personal universe, who imposes on every soul the obligation of love and obedience, the milkmaid no less than the monarch, the programmer no less than the president.
The scriptures are full of individuals who brave incredible dangers to save God’s people. Some slay the uncircumcised in battle. Others stand alone before kings, declaring their sins as bringing upon the children of God invasion and exile. Ohers such as Peter vindicate God before town councils and Pharisees.
The account of Jonathan’s single-handed assault on a Philistine garrison overlooking the pass at Michmash is telling — and encouraging.
As Samuel recounts it in his first book, the 14th chapter, Jonathan is the son of King Saul and is impatient for action. Saul has taken the throne as the 12 tribes of Israel consolidated themselves into a kingdom. The children of Israel are at war with the Philistines, who have imposed a form of “gun control” in territory they control. “Now there was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, ‘Lest the Hebrews make swords or spears.’ But all the Israelites would go down to the Philistines to sharpen each man’s plowshare, his mattock, his ax and his sickle; and the charge for a sharpening was a pim *** . So it came about, on the day of battle, that there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people who were with Saul and Jonathan. But they were found with Saul and Jonathan his son.”
Jonathan, alone with his armor bearer, gazes across a valley to a position of high rock held by Philistine soldiers. “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised,” he says; “it may be that the Lord will work for us. For nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few.”
The Israelite duo descend to the valley and climb up the other side. Jonathan confides, “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.”
By catcall, the enemy invite the interlopers into their position — “Come up after me, for the Lord has delivered them into the hand of Israel,” Jonathan tells his armor bearer.
Up they scramble. Together, they kill 20 soldiers, “and there was trembling in the camp, in the field, and among all the people.” An earthquake causes trembling in the hearts of the enemy, as well.
Single, courageous men
The Bible is full of individual men who are stripped of company, allies and support staff to accomplish tasks of war. At the time of the judges and repeated military occupations of Israel, Ehud slays Eglon the corpulent king in his bedchamber at the end of an 18-year subjugation (Judges 3:21). Shamgar kills 600 men of the Philistines with an ox goad “and he also delivered Israel” (Judges 3:31). Gideon is forced to reduce the size of his force from 22,000 to 10,000 and, at the edge of the waters at Harod, to 300 men, “lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me’” (Judges 7:2).
God’s way, of course, is best illustrated by the self-sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, who conquers death to save His people past, present and future. All great acts of self-sacrifice and devotion are in the template established by Jesus’ yielding to the will of the Father on the cross, for God’s glory and man’s benefit.
Jonathan and his armor bearer, like dozens of other courageous individuals in the biblical record, are wholly dependent on God for success of their independent action. Jonathan is bold, willing to try, committing to God his way, leaving results in God’s hands. Notice how Jonathan doesn’t presume on God, but is open for feedback from the Philistines that would allow him to halt his ascent up the rocky mount.
Today Christendom needs men of courage, which the scriptures suggest is a personal virtue, an individual claim upon God, a private grace.
Source: This text is based on my sermon notes March 8, 2015, Rev. Gary Roop, pastor, Brainerd Hills Presbyterian Church.