We are continuing in a sermon series on Lessons From The Lesser Know people of the Bible. The first week we looked at the story of Gideon and from him we learned the valuable lesson that God works through our weakness to show his strength. Then we looked at the life of Hagar and we learned that God works all things for his glory, even the bad things that we go through. Today we’re going to look at the story of Jonathan. Unless you’re a real Bible scholar, you probably don’t know who Jonathan is. He shows up in the Bible in the book of 1st Samuel, chapter 13. It was at a time in the history of the people of Israel when they were transitioning from being ruled by a series of charismatic leaders called Judges, to being ruled by a king.
Samuel was the last of the Judges to preside over Israel. He had given his whole life, heart and soul, to serving his people, settling disputes and interpreting God’s laws for them. Samuel had served them well. He never took advantage of them for personal gain. He never cheated or oppressed the people. But now the people wanted a king to rule over them. The Ammonites were positioning themselves to attack Israel. So the people of Israel demanded a king to rule over them, one who would lead them in battle and make them stronger militarily. Samuel complies.
Samuel gives a farewell speech as he steps down from his position as Judge. He says, “…when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me, ‘No, we want a king to rule over us’—even though the Lord your God was your king. Now here is the king you have chosen, the one you asked for; see, the Lord has set a king over you.” (1st Samuel 12:12-13)
Samuel doesn’t step down quietly as Judge. It is harvest time for the wheat crop and Samuel calls on the Lord to send thunder and rain down on the people as punishment for demanding a king. The Bible says, “The people all said to Samuel, ‘Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.’
‘Do not be afraid,’ Samuel replied. ‘You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.’” (1st Samuel 12:19-20)
That’s the FIRST LESSON we learn as we explore Jonathan’s story. DO NOT LET YOUR SIN TURN YOU AWAY FROM GOD. Confess your sin and turn back to God and serve him with all your heart. God can still use you for his purpose. He knows you continually sin and fall short. You cannot let your sin keep you from serving God with all your heart. You need to confess it and go on. There is no one like our God. He alone can save you. Samuel says, “Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own.” (1st Samuel 12:21-22)
When you were baptized, the Lord was pleased to make you his own. When you came to faith in Jesus Christ and confessed him as your Lord and Savior, God was pleased to make you his own. Do not turn away from him because of your sin. Turn back and serve the Lord with all your heart.
Samuel concludes his farewell speech as Judge by assuring the people that he will pray for them. He says, “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. Be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will perish.” (1st Samuel 12:23-25) So Samuel is stepping into his new role as prophet and advisor to the king. All the responsibilities of the Judge are now divided between the king (who will lead the troops), and the prophet (who will communicate to the king and people Yahweh’s will).
The people had chosen Saul to be their king. He was a warrior, mighty in battle and he had a son, named Jonathan, who was also a warrior, trained in battle. Saul had proven himself by leading troops into battle against the Philistines and won. He had two thousand men from Israel with him at Mikmash in the hill country of Bethel, and Jonathan had one thousand men with him in Gibeah in Benjamin. Jonathan took his men and attacked the Philistine outpost at Geba, and the Philistines heard about it. The Bible says, “The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Mikmash….” (1st Samuel 13:5) Seeing that they were greatly outnumbered, Saul’s men hid in caves, tombs, briar patches and holes among the rocks—any nook and cranny they could find for cover. Saul’s army dropped to 600 men.
Not only were they outnumbered, but they had no weapons other than their farming tools. The Philistines saw to it that Israel had no blacksmiths to make them swords and spears for battle. The Israelites had to go to the Philistines to get their farming tools sharpened and repaired. The Philistine blacksmiths charged such a high fee for sharpening the farming tools of the Israelites which meant most could not afford to have their tools sharpened. Without swords and spears, they were at a tremendous disadvantage. The situation looked hopeless.
LESSON TWO from the story of Jonathan: NOTHING IS HOPELESS WHEN GOD IS INVOLVED. That’s what we learned with Gideon, who defeated the enemy with only 300 men. That’s when God demonstrates his strength—through our weakness. That’s what we’re going to learn from Jonathan and his armor-bearer.
The stage is set for battle. A huge ravine separated the Philistines from the Israelites, with steep cliffs on both sides of the ravine. This detail makes what Jonathan and his armor-bear did all the more impressive. The Bible says, “Jonathan, son of Saul said to his young armor-bearer, ‘Come, let’s go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side.’ But he did not tell his father.” (1st Samuel 14:1) Again in verse six his proposal is repeated. “Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, ‘Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.’ ‘Do all that you have in mind,’ his armor-bearer said. Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.’” (1st Samuel 14:6-7)
Jonathan is a “perhaps God” kind of thinker. He was by nature a perhaps God kind of thinker. It’s how he was wired. It’s how God shaped him. It was his way of saying, “I have great hope that God will act,” and yet he protected God’s freedom with the world “perhaps.” Some of you are “perhaps God” kind of thinkers. You see an opportunity to do something and you think, “Perhaps God is going to work through me if only I step out in faith.” “Perhaps God will help be succeed if I step out in faith.” “Perhaps God would want me to take this opportunity to do something good for the kingdom of God.” “I respect you God if you don’t choose to act, but I am filled with hope that you will.” That’s who Jonathan was. A perhaps God kind of thinker.
The apostle Paul was another perhaps God kind of thinker and he encouraged others to be perhaps God kind of thinkers. He wrote, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:18)
History has been made by perhaps God thinkers. Churches have been built by perhaps God kind of thinkers. They are the people who dream dreams of what God can do. They catch a glimpse of what God can do through them and they jump on it. We are the beneficiaries of perhaps God kind of thinkers as we sit here in this place, people who believed God just might want them to do something, to build something, to accomplish something through them.
LESSON THREE from the story of Jonathan is: GOD DOES INDEED ACT ON OUR BEHALF. He accomplishes his will through us. He makes us succeed. He puts opportunities before us and he nudges us to take those opportunities to do good.
That’s who Jonathan was: a perhaps God kind of thinker. That’s who some of you are. You see an opportunity to do something good and you do it, trusting that it is what God would want you to do and he will enable you to do it. Jonathan said, “Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.” (1st Samuel 14:6) In this case it was by two. Then the otherwise silent armor-bear speaks up and professes his total commitment to help carry out his master’s desires, “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.” (1st Samuel 14:6)
So here we have Jonathan, the perhaps God kind of guy, and his armor-bearer, the I am with you heart and soul kind of guy. Jonathan came up with the plan, but he couldn’t pull it off without the support of his armor-bear, who was essential to carrying out the plan and he doesn’t even get his name in the Bible. That’s often the way it is. The perhaps God kind of guy gets all the accolades and the I’m with you heart and soul guy goes unnamed. But the truth is: Jonathan couldn’t have done it on his own. His armor-bearer was far more than just a caddy. He was the heart and soul of the mission. The perhaps God people need the heart and soul people or nothing will get done. Leaders need followers or nothing will get done.
Some of you are heart and soul kind of people. You get behind the perhaps God people heart and soul. You support them. You have their back. Together with the perhaps God people, you make things happen. That’s the FOURTH LESSON we learn from Jonathan and his armor-bearer. EVERY LEADER NEEDS HEART AND SOUL FOLLOWERS TO BE SUCCESSFUL.
So Jonathan said to his armor-bear, “Come on, then; we will cross over toward them [meaning the Philistines] and let them see us. If they say to us, ‘Wait there until we come to you,’ we will stay where we are and not go up to them. But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ we will climb up, because that will be our sign that the Lord has given them into our hands.” (1st Samuel 14:8-11) Jonathan was seeking a sign from the Lord, much like Gideon who placed a fleece on the ground one night and asked God to make the ground wet and the fleece dry come morning as a sign that he would give Gideon success in battle. Only the sign Jonathan seeks, the invitation of the Philistines to come on up so we can teach you a lesson, is going to place them in far more danger than if they waited for the enemy to come down to them. Perhaps that’s the whole point. If Jonathan and his armor-bearer can win by crawling up on all fours to an enemy that far outnumbered them and was well-prepared, and strategically well-placed to fight them, then God will be given all the credit. Jonathan’s victory will be much like Gideon’s victory which was won with only 300 men. It was humanly impossible, but that’s when God gets all the credit.
“So both of them showed themselves to the Philistine outpost. ‘Look!’ said the Philistines. ‘The Hebrews are crawling out of the holes they were hiding in.’ The men of the outpost shouted to Jonathan and his armor-bearer, ‘Come up to us and we’ll teach you a lesson.’ So Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, ‘Climb up after me; the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel.’ Jonathan climbed up, using his hand and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him. In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre.” (1st Samuel 14:11-14)
Their victory set off a chain of events that ended in the Philistine army turning on themselves in fear and confusion. Saul got word of what was happening and he took his men and chased after them, killing those who remained. The victory that day against the Philistines was credit to Jonathan, but he knew who deserved all the credit for the victory. As soon as he got the sign from God to go on up to the Philistines he knew, “…the Lord has given them into our hands.” Jonathan gave the Lord the credit for his victory. That’s the FIFTH LESSON we learn from Jonathan and his armor-bearer. GIVE GOD THE CREDIT FOR YOUR SUCCESS. Even as you plan your course of action, be prepared to give God the credit for your success. Don’t be afraid to ask God for a sign that he is going to give you the victory, and don’t hesitate to give him the credit.
As we close, I want you to think about whether you are more like Jonathan or whether you are more like his armor-bearer. Are you a perhaps God thinker, or are you am “I’m with you heart and soul” kind of person? Raise your hand if you think you are more like Jonathan. Now raise your hand if you think you are more like the armor-bearer? It takes both kinds of people to win battles and achieve victories. Go with who you are. If you’re a perhaps God person, lean into it but don’t lock on to it. There will be times when you will need to get behind someone else heart and soul in order to make something good happen. If you’re more like the armor-bearer, lean into it but don’t lock onto it, because there may be times when God nudges you to be more like Jonathan.