Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 8, Number 36, September 3 to September 9, 2006

A Father and a Son

1 Samuel 14:1-52

By Rev. Russell B. Smith

Covenant-First Presbyterian Church ,
717 Elm Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202

Remember that when we last left the story, King Saul had put Israel in quite a pickle by picking a fight with the Philistines and not being prepared to wage the war. He showed again that he didn't have reverence for God, but rather was treating God as his personal genie. Because of Saul's inappropriate approach to God, Samuel pronounced God's judgment -- that God would forsake Saul and give his kingdom to another.

This week, we get back into the battle and we see a clear contrast being drawn between Saul and his son Jonathan. But while Saul continues his decline, God raises up another leader in Israel: Jonathan. Let's look at the contrast between Saul and Jonathan -- the father and the son.

Saul appears in this passage first in verses 2-3. First, we are reminded that his forces have dwindled from 3000 to about 600. Second, we see that Saul has replaced Samuel as religious counselor with Ahijah. A careful reader should have alarm bells going off. Ahijah is a grandson of Phinehas -- one of the sons of Eli who were destroyed by God for their faithlessness. You will remember the curse that God pronounced over Eli's house. Ahijah, as a descendent of Eli, is not a good sign.

Saul has lost the capacity to hear God's prophetic word. God shapes and molds hearts through the prophetic word. In those days, he spoke directly through prophets. For us, God speaks directly through Scripture. What great danger we are in if we forsake the guidance of the word for counsel that tickles our ears with words we want to hear. Second Timothy 3:16-17 says that "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." That means that Scripture is challenging to us -- it is confrontational. We may not always like what it has to say, but we must always return to it. If we replace Scripture with some sham wisdom, then we're running the same risks that Saul ran by replacing Samuel with Ahijah -- sterility, lack of hearing from God, and ultimate destruction.

Skip on down to verse 18-19. The attack has begun, the Philistines are in confusion, and Saul begins to summon Ahijah to bring the Ark into battle -- the visible reminder that God fought on behalf of Israel. Then he says "never mind" -- What was he thinking? Earlier in this book we saw that the Ark, signifying God's direct presence, brought enormous power. God did astounding things where the Ark went. How could Saul treat the Ark so cavalierly? Simple: the disregard that he has for the things of God is making its way to the top more and more.

Then check out his curse in verse 24 -- "Cursed be any man who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!" That's a pretty stupid oath. You're in the middle of a war, and you deprive your men of provisions --- not the smartest decision ever made by a general. Not to mention that Saul is more concerned about his own revenge rather than the Lord's glory.

Remember Deuteronomy 17, the instructions for the king of Israel: be a servant to the people, keep the word of the Lord before your people always. And here, Saul goes in the opposite direction -- be a tyrant and keep your petty desires before the people always.

There is even a hint that the oath may be part of a plot to eliminate Jonathan. Saul knows that Jonathan and his armor bearer are the only ones away from camp. Saul knows that it is unlikely that Jonathan will hear of the oath. Saul perceives Jonathan as a threat because Jonathan keeps taking initiative. Perhaps this whole end of the chapter is a bit of theatre so Saul can eliminate Jonathan, or at least teach him a lesson. In any case -- look down to verse 37. Saul inquires of God and receives no answer.

There comes a time when after disdaining God repeatedly that God says "Have it your way, I'll not speak my words to you." Don't read this wrong. Not every case of God's silence is due to sin or disobedience. But it is clear that if you want God to speak with you, perhaps you ought to reverence him with the proper awe and respect. Is it possible that so few of us see the power of God in our lives because we really don't look at God as the Lord of the universe? Rather, we look at God as a compartment in our lives whom we appease by doing our little religious duty -- and we're being quite generous in that duty by the way, so God had better be appreciative. No wonder we don't see the eye-popping power of God. No wonder when Saul enquires, he hears nothing.

Contrast Saul's attitude with that of Jonathan. Look at his attitude in verse 6: "Come, let's go over to the outpost... Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few." Here Jonathan is taking action, and he's trusting that God will work. He's not presuming that God will act, but in the words of Dale Ralph Davis: "Clear convictions about God produce great expectations from God." Jonathan knows that God loves to do great things through little resources and the only way to know if now is one of those times is to test it. Jonathan is on the ragged edge of faith that says "I'm going to accept what comes -- I can't bind God in a box, but I trust that what comes, whether pleasant or not, will be his good will." The crux is that Jonathan's attention is not upon the numbers, or his own revenge, but upon the Lord.

And God comes through powerfully. As verse 15 says, God sends a panic through the Philistine army -- this is a supernatural panic. The Philistines melt off in different directions and they fight one another. Periodically, God does this in the histories. For instance, in Judges 7 Gideon is with his three hundred men taking on the massive armies of Midian and God acts so very powerfully to save his people. If this battle puts Gideon's enemies into confusion, then how much more does the Cross of Christ put God's enemies into confusion? How much more does God move to defend us when we are under attack from our spiritual enemies? When we are crushed by despair, consumed by anger, and enticed by sin yet act in faith, do we not experience God's power dispelling some of what ails us?

And that is the great hope. Even while Israel is being led by a king who is descending into madness and self-centeredness, God is raising up a faithful general. God continues to deliver his people. Saul is a strong man who inflicts God's punishment upon the Israelites --- Jonathan becomes the instrument of God's blessing upon the Israelites.

Therein lies the difference between the father and the son in this story. The father becomes consumed with self, while the son gives himself away to be concerned with God's glory.

These battles in the Old Testament are vivid pictures of our spiritual reality now. Our battles as Christians are not physical battles. Nations still have massive physical conflicts, but our battles are on the spiritual front . Consider Paul's statement in Ephesians 6:10-12 "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Then Paul goes on to talk about putting on the full armor of God -- the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the word of God.

Understand this -- we live in a situation very much like that of Saul and Jonathan. We are faced with an enemy that earnestly desires our destruction. And our enemy, Satan, uses weapons of temptation, lust, greed, despair, wrath, hot temper, self-justification, and pride. Have you ever wondered why small disagreements flare into huge arguments? Have you wondered where some of those unbidden thoughts come from? Those fears that haunt you in the deep of the night? Have you ever questioned how people fly into a rage at small provocations? Have you ever found yourself casting blame for problems to those all around you without looking at yourself? Have you wondered how at how easy it is to make small ethical compromises, and at how strong the pull is to do so? These are the weapons of spiritual war. And our enemies are amassed together in order to destroy us.

We can sit like Saul under our tree, playing our little religious games -- or we can be like Jonathan and boldly take the offensive. We can deliberately work to root sin out from our lives. We can boldly pursue the ministry that God has called us to. We can act in faith, and trust that God will supply the results. Who are you going to take as your example -- the father or the son?