The people of Israel were God’s chosen people, but that did not mean, as you probably know, that circumstances always went well for them. If you know anything about you the Old Testament you are aware that Israel went though times of occupation and division once they took control of the Promised Land.
Near the end of what is called the “captivity of the land,” which lasted from the death of Joshua through the reign of Saul, we discover another instance when Israel’s hope for freedom looked very bleak.
What I hope to accomplish as we take a look at this event in the history of Israel and as we draw parallels to our lives, and the fears that hold us back, so that we will find some encouragement as we head of into the unknown, what Shakespeare called the “undiscovered country,” the future. Take a few moments and read the Biblical account of what happened.
1 Then one day Jonathan son of Saul said to his armor bearer, "Come on, let's go over to the Philistine garrison that is opposite us." But he did not let his father know. 2 Now Saul was sitting under a pomegranate tree in Migron, on the outskirts of Gibeah. The army that was with him numbered about six hundred men. 3 Now Ahijah was carrying an ephod. He was the son of Ahitub, who was the brother of Ichabod and a son of Phineas, son of Eli, the priest of the LORD in Shiloh. The army was unaware that Jonathan had left. 4 Now there was a steep cliff on each side of the pass through which Jonathan intended to go to reach the Philistine garrison. One cliff was named Bozez, the other Seneh. 5 The cliff to the north was closer to Micmash, the one to the south closer to Geba. 6 Jonathan said to his armor bearer, "Come on, let's go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised men. Perhaps the LORD will intervene for us. Nothing can prevent the LORD from delivering, whether by many or by a few." 7 His armor bearer said to him, "Do everything that is on your mind. Do as you're inclined. I'm with you all the way!" 8 Jonathan replied, "All right! We'll go over to these men and fight them. 9 If they say to us, 'Stay put until we approach you,' we will stay right there and not go up to them. 10 But if they say, 'Come up against us,' we will go up. For in that case the LORD has given them into our hand - it will be a sign to us." 11 When they made themselves known to the Philistine garrison, the Philistines said, "Look! The Hebrews are coming out of the holes in which they hid themselves." 12 Then the men of the garrison said to Jonathan and his armor bearer, "Come on up to us so we can teach you a thing or two!" Then Jonathan said to his armor bearer, "Come up behind me, for the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel!" 13 Jonathan crawled up on his hands and feet, with his armor bearer following behind him. Jonathan struck down the Philistines, while his armor bearer came along behind him and killed them. 14 In this initial skirmish Jonathan and his armor bearer struck down about twenty men in an area that measured half an acre. 15 Then fear overwhelmed those who were in the camp, those who were in the field, all the army in the garrison, and the raiding bands. They trembled and the ground shook. This fear was caused by God. (1 Samuel 14:1-15; NET)
Don’t you love jumping part way into a story? You aren’t really certain of what is happening or why it is happening, so let’s take a moment so we can understand the events which have led up to Jonathan taking such an amazing risk.
When Saul became king of Israel the nation was occupied by two other nations. Remember this is the period of history that is called the “captivity of the land.” Even though Israel was in the Promised Land they were captives of the nations around them. In the west were the Philistines as we read about in our text. In the east were the Ammonites. In his first year as king, Saul gathered an army and defeated the Ammonites.
The Philistines were still a problem. So in the second year of Saul’s reign he chose 3,000 men and he placed 1,000 of those under the leadership of his son Jonathan. Now at this time Jonathan is a young man in his late teens, possibly as old as twenty. With those 1,000 men Jonathan began to engage the Philistines and have success.
The military success of Jonathan drew the attention of the Philistines who decided to reenforce their Israelite outposts. They sent in 3,000 chariots, which were manned by 6,000 men, and a vast number of infantry. The 3,000 men under the leadership of Saul and Jonathan looked at this reenforced army and became afraid. A number of them left and hid.
When Saul counted the number of his army he found only 600 remained. Not only did the Philistines have a numeric advantage, but they were also better armed. The Philistine occupation of Israel forbid Israel from having blacksmiths. The result was a steep tax to have any metal work done, such as the sharpening of farm equipment, but also prevented Israel from making weapons. While the Philistines boasted the latest in military weaponry, chariots and armor, Israel had two swords: Saul had one and Jonathan the other. The rest of the army had weapons they converted from every day tools such as axes, picks, sickles, slingshots, and the like. What hope did Israel have of defeating the Philistines and becoming free?
- Point to Ponder: We need encouragement as we face the future.
- Passage to Remember: 1 Samuel 14:1-15
- Question to Consider: What is the source of our hope?