“The Fall of Saul, Part 2: The Way of Saul vs The Way of Jonathan”
1 Samuel 14
May 19, 2019
Faith Presbyterian Church – Evening Service
Our text this evening is from First Samuel, chapter fourteen.
But before we get to chapter fourteen, we need to remember where we left off at the end of chapter thirteen a couple weeks ago.
Saul had sinned against God. He had not obeyed the commandment of the prophet, and then when confronted he refused to repent and ask for forgiveness. And with that he had lost the promise of the kingdom, the guidance of the prophet, and the assistance of the Lord. While Saul had originally been selected for a dynasty, in light of his failure to listen to God’s command, Samuel has now declared that the kingship will not stay with Saul’s line. Samuel was to guide Saul in battle against the Philistines, and to serve as a representative of God’s, of Yahweh’s, power with Israel. But by the end of chapter thirteen Samuel has left Saul and taken both that guidance and that assistance with him. Saul is left on his own, unrepentant and on a path of not listening to the Lord’s commands for him. That is the spiritual situation. It’s not good.
And the military situation is really bad as well. In terms of size, First Samuel thirteen describes a Philistine force like the sand of the seashore while Israel has six hundred soldiers. In terms of positioning, First Samuel thirteen tells us that the Philistines have effectively surrounded the small Israelite band. And in terms of weaponry, the Philistines are equipped not only with regular weapons, but chapter thirteen says they have thirty-thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen, while among Israel’s small force, only Saul and Jonathan have proper weapons for battle. The other Israelite soldiers are equipped with things like clubs and slings – which could do some damage but were no match for the metal weapons of the Philistines. [Firth, 156-157]
As one commentator puts it: “Philistine victory seems inevitable.” [Firth, 156]
And that is where chapter thirteen ended.
Which brings us now to chapter fourteen.
Please do listen carefully, for this is God’s word for us this evening:
14:1 One day Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side.” But he did not tell his father. 2 Saul was staying in the outskirts of Gibeah in the pomegranate cave at Migron. The people who were with him were about six hundred men, 3 including Ahijah the son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, son of Phinehas, son of Eli, the priest of Yahweh in Shiloh, wearing an ephod. And the people did not know that Jonathan had gone. 4 Within the passes, by which Jonathan sought to go over to the Philistine garrison, there was a rocky crag on the one side and a rocky crag on the other side. The name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh. 5 The one crag rose on the north in front of Michmash, and the other on the south in front of Geba.
6 Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that Yahweh will work for us, for nothing can hinder Yahweh from saving by many or by few.” 7 And his armor-bearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.” 8 Then Jonathan said, “Behold, we will cross over to the men, and we will show ourselves to them. 9 If they say to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place, and we will not go up to them. 10 But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up, for Yahweh has given them into our hand. And this shall be the sign to us.” 11 So both of them showed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines. And the Philistines said, “Look, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden themselves.” 12 And the men of the garrison hailed Jonathan and his armor-bearer and said, “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing.” And Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Come up after me, for Yahweh has given them into the hand of Israel.” 13 Then Jonathan climbed up on his hands and feet, and his armor-bearer after him. And they fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer killed them after him. 14 And that first strike, which Jonathan and his armor-bearer made, killed about twenty men within as it were half a furrow’s length in an acre of land. 15 And there was a panic in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. The garrison and even the raiders trembled, the earth quaked, and it became a very great panic.
16 And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked, and behold, the multitude was dispersing here and there. 17 Then Saul said to the people who were with him, “Count and see who has gone from us.” And when they had counted, behold, Jonathan and his armor-bearer were not there. 18 So Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring the ark of God here.” For the ark of God went at that time with the people of Israel. 19 Now while Saul was talking to the priest, the tumult in the camp of the Philistines increased more and more. So Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand.” 20 Then Saul and all the people who were with him rallied and went into the battle. And behold, every Philistine’s sword was against his fellow, and there was very great confusion. 21 Now the Hebrews who had been with the Philistines before that time and who had gone up with them into the camp, even they also turned to be with the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. 22 Likewise, when all the men of Israel who had hidden themselves in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were fleeing, they too followed hard after them in the battle.23 So Yahweh saved Israel that day. And the battle passed beyond Beth-aven.
24 And the men of Israel had been hard pressed that day, so Saul had laid an oath on the people, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.” So none of the people had tasted food. 25 Now when all the people came to the forest, behold, there was honey on the ground. 26 And when the people entered the forest, behold, the honey was dropping, but no one put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath. 27 But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath, so he put out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes became bright. 28 Then one of the people said, “Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food this day.’” And the people were faint. 29 Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey.30 How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies that they found. For now the defeat among the Philistines has not been great.”
31 They struck down the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon. And the people were very faint. 32 The people pounced on the spoil and took sheep and oxen and calves and slaughtered them on the ground. And the people ate them with the blood. 33 Then they told Saul, “Behold, the people are sinning against Yahweh by eating with the blood.” And he said, “You have dealt treacherously; roll a great stone to me here.”34 And Saul said, “Disperse yourselves among the people and say to them, ‘Let every man bring his ox or his sheep and slaughter them here and eat, and do not sin against Yahweh by eating with the blood.’” So every one of the people brought his ox with him that night and they slaughtered them there. 35 And Saul built an altar to Yahweh; it was the first altar that he built to Yahweh.
36 Then Saul said, “Let us go down after the Philistines by night and plunder them until the morning light; let us not leave a man of them.” And they said, “Do whatever seems good to you.” But the priest said, “Let us draw near to God here.” 37 And Saul inquired of God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will you give them into the hand of Israel?” But he did not answer him that day. 38 And Saul said, “Come here, all you leaders of the people, and know and see how this sin has arisen today. 39 For as Yahweh lives who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.” But there was not a man among all the people who answered him. 40 Then he said to all Israel, “You shall be on one side, and I and Jonathan my son will be on the other side.” And the people said to Saul, “Do what seems good to you.” 41 Therefore Saul said, “O Lord God of Israel, why have you not answered your servant this day? If this guilt is in me or in Jonathan my son, O Lord, God of Israel, give Urim. But if this guilt is in your people Israel, give Thummim.” And Jonathan and Saul were taken, but the people escaped.42 Then Saul said, “Cast the lot between me and my son Jonathan.” And Jonathan was taken.
43 Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” And Jonathan told him, “I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am; I will die.” 44 And Saul said, “God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathan.” 45 Then the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As Yahweh lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people ransomed Jonathan, so that he did not die. 46 Then Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place.
47 When Saul had taken the kingship over Israel, he fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, against the Ammonites, against Edom, against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines. Wherever he turned he routed them. 48 And he did valiantly and struck the Amalekites and delivered Israel out of the hands of those who plundered them.
49 Now the sons of Saul were Jonathan, Ishvi, and Malchi-shua. And the names of his two daughters were these: the name of the firstborn was Merab, and the name of the younger Michal. 50 And the name of Saul’s wife was Ahinoam the daughter of Ahimaaz. And the name of the commander of his army was Abner the son of Ner, Saul’s uncle. 51 Kish was the father of Saul, and Ner the father of Abner was the son of Abiel.
52 There was hard fighting against the Philistines all the days of Saul. And when Saul saw any strong man, or any valiant man, he attached him to himself.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Let’s pray …
Lord, you are our hiding place and our shield,
we hope in your word.
Help us to turn from all false ways,
and keep instead the commandments of you, our God.
Uphold us according to your promise, that we may live,
and let us not be put to shame in our hope.
Hold us up, that we may be safe
and have regard for your statutes continually.
For we know we will one day stand before you and give an account,
and so, with that in mind, help us now to attend to your word.
Grant this in Jesus’s name. Amen.
[Based on Psalm 119:114-117, 120]
Chapter fourteen of First Samuel can seem sort of disjointed when you first hear it. Yet it actually presents a coherent picture as a whole – so much so that one commentator points out that critical interpreters who often try to stress the discontinuity of the text are “unusually united in seeing this chapter as a unity.” [Firth, 161]
The text has three major sections: in verses one through twenty-three the dominant story line is the victory of Jonathan, in verses twenty-four through forty-six the dominant theme is the vow of Saul, and in verses forty-seven through fifty-two we are given a summary of Saul’s reign. But across all three sections the author is drawing two contrasting portraits for us. What unifies the chapter is that in a number of details and events it gives us a picture of Jonathan and a picture of Saul. And the pictures put side by side are meant to give a contrast. And those contrasting pictures are what we will consider this evening.
As I mentioned two weeks ago, Saul’s fall comes in three stages: in chapter thirteen his sin is primarily in regard to God, in chapter fourteen it is primarily in regard to God’s people, and in chapter fifteen it is primarily in regard to the world. We are in chapter fourteen … and while the stress is on Saul’s sin regarding God’s people, all three components really come into play. As the portraits of Saul and Jonathan emerge, we see how each man relates to God, how each man relates to God’s people, and then how each relates to worldly success.
So first, our text gives us a series of contrasting snapshots of how each man relates to God.
As we go through them we’ll be jumping around the text a lot, so you might want to have it out in front of you if you don’t already.
Interestingly, the first snapshot we get is who each man consults (or doesn’t consult) for advice.
In verses two and three we are told where Saul is and who is with him. And we learn that among Saul’s counselors is a descendant of Phinehas, the son of Eli. And it’s been a while, but if you remember, Phinehas was the one of the evil priests who abused and plundered God’s people, whom God had judged. And while we don’t get any details here about Ahijah specifically, we should still be worried. Saul’s spiritual counselor is a man from a corrupt background. That is the man Saul has chosen to listen to.
Jonathan, on the other hand, we learn in verse one, avoids the counsel of Saul his father. Jonathan seems to already be aware of the spiritual shortcomings of his father. And so, when making a significant decision he avoids him rather than seeking him out.
The first snapshot we get is that Jonathan avoids dubious spiritual influences, while Saul associates with them.
The next snapshot we’ll consider on their relationship to God comes in verses eight through twelve.
There we see Jonathan listening to God.
At this time in redemptive history, God used lots to reveal his will to his people, and so Jonathan sets up a scenario to discern God’s will, and to then obey God’s command. Jonathan and his armor-bearer will come out before the Philistines, and if the Philistines call them to come up to them, they will take it as a sign that God will give the Philistines into their hands. Jonathan seeks God’s guidance. Then he listens for it. And when it is given, he acts accordingly.
Saul, on the other hand, does not listen to God. We see this in verses eighteen and nineteen. In those verses Saul begins to seek God’s guidance – he calls Ahijah the priest over and asks him to draw lots to determine God’s will, probably using the ephod. He asks for God’s direction … and then before the priest delivers an answer from God Saul cuts him off. That’s what happens in verse nineteen. It’s an unparalleled act in Scripture. He asks God a question and then decides he doesn’t want to wait for God’s answer. Saul’s sin back in chapter thirteen hinged on his refusal to listen to God, and now Saul compounds that even further. As one commentator puts it: “At Michmash, Saul silenced the Lord; and in response the Lord became silent. Later, when Saul sought Yahweh, He refused to answer.” [Leithart, 91]
Jonathan avoids bad counselors and listens to the Lord. Saul associates with bad counselors and silences the Lord.
The next snapshot we see is regarding who they ultimately fight for. Jonathan, we see, is fighting for the Lord, fighting for Yahweh, and so in verse forty-five his fellow Israelites declare that he has worked with God. His goal is to serve God and God’s purposes.
Saul, we see by contrast, fights for himself. In verse twenty-four we learn that he tells everyone that his goal is to be avenged on his enemies. He says it himself.
For Jonathan the battle is for the Lord. For Saul, the battle is for Saul.
Next, we see their overall attitude towards Yahweh’s sovereignty. Jonathan stresses God’s sovereign freedom. It’s a great line in verse six. Jonathan says, “It may be that Yahweh will work for us.” There’s a lot in that phrase. Jonathan knows God can help them in that specific way. But he doesn’t assume that he will. And more than that, he doesn’t try to manipulate God into working in a specific way. Instead he seeks an indication from the Lord as to whether the Lord will work in that way or not. Jonathan knows that you don’t manipulate Yahweh into doing what you want. Yahweh is sovereign. Jonathan just looks to him for direction.
Saul, on the other hand, makes a foolish oath in verse twenty-four, in an attempt to manipulate God into avenging him against the Philistines.
Jonathan recognizes God’s sovereign freedom, while Saul tries to manipulate God to his own ends.
Finally, we see in Jonathan what one commentator describes as his faithful imagination. [Davis, 143-145] It’s worth rereading verse six: “Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, ‘Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that Yahweh will work for us, for nothing can hinder Yahweh from saving by many or by few.’”
Jonathan was looking at a terrible situation. Israel is outgunned in every possible way. But he knows what God is able to do. Yahweh can save them with many or with few. Jonathan begins to faithfully imagine what God might do. He doesn’t presume on what God will do, but he does let his imagination run a bit on what God may do. And that faithful imagination is what propels Jonathan forward. It’s what enables him to take risks. Jonathan sees the world with eyes of faith in God’s power. And that allows him to imagine possibilities that others would fail to even consider.
Saul, on the other hand, is among those who would fail to consider such possibilities. If Jonathan is characterized by faithful imagination, then Saul is characterized by fearful restraint. He is holed up in a cave in verse two. He is fearfully indecisive and reactive in verses sixteen through nineteen. He does not seem to see the world with the same eyes of faith that Jonathan does.
And this last snapshot is also worth reflecting on. I wonder how often we look like Saul rather than Jonathan. I wonder how much each one of us is motivated by the reactiveness of fear vs how much each of us is motivated by the imaginative possibilities of faith. I wonder how much each of us look at our lives, the lives of those around us, or the life of our church, or the state of our city – I wonder how often we look at those things and let our minds run a little bit with a sanctified faithful imagination of all that God may do … Or … on the other hand: how much are we like Saul, wanting to withdraw fearfully into our safe caves. I feel especially convicted by this contrasting snapshot. But maybe it’s only me … or maybe it’s not.
Taken with all the other snapshots we have mentioned, two unified pictures begin to emerge.
Jonathan listens to God while avoiding bad spiritual advisers. He fights for Yahweh’s purposes, not his own, he lives in submission to Yahweh’s sovereign freedom, but even as he does, he faithfully imagines what Yahweh might do in the situation he faces. This is the relationship that Jonathan has with God.
Saul is different. Saul stops his ears to the Lord’s word and listens instead to a dubious advisor. He fights for his own purposes and his own glory, and in doing so he tries to manipulate God into serving his purposes. And through all this, his heart and his actions are marked by fearful restraint. This is Saul’s relationship to God.
And as we consider these two pictures, we should pause and ask ourselves some questions. Where do we see ourselves in these collages? Where do we see overlap with the picture of Jonathan – where do we see encouraging things in our lives that we are called to continue to build on?
And by contrast, where do we see overlap with Saul – where do we see problem areas we need to address? Whom do you really listen to? Whom do you ultimately fight for? Who serves whom in your relationship with God? And just how faithful is your imagination when you consider what might be?
In Jonathan and Saul, we are given two contrasting relationships to the Lord. That is the first thing we see.
The next thing we see is what flows from those relationships with God. The next thing we see is how each man’s relationship to God shapes his relationship to God’s people.
But before we go there, I think we need to pause to consider what areas of our lives we should be applying this to.
This text is about relationships with the people of God – and so you need to begin by considering what those relationships look like for you.
How do you relate to our congregation? What role do you play? What formal roles do you fill and what informal roles do you fill? How do you influence others?
In addition to that, what spiritual role do you play in your family? Or in your relationships with Christian peers? Or in some outside ministry?
What are the most important relationships that you have with God’s people?
With that in mind, let us turn to Jonathan and Saul to see what our text has to show us in these areas.
And let’s start with Saul. How does Saul’s relationship with God now shape his relationship to God’s people?
As we look at Saul, what we find is that he sits back in self-preserving safety, he troubles God’s people as they seek to be faithful, and he ultimately hinders the work of God among God’s people.
How do we see that?
Well first, we see Saul’s disposition of self-preservation in verses two and three.
Israel is outnumbered and surrounded. But even so, they are at something of a safe stand-off for the moment. We learn in verse five that two rocky crags lie between Israel and the Philistines. Now is the time for Israel’s leader to lead – to step up and determine what Israel is to do. Instead, he is hiding in a cave, we read in verse two. Rather than leading, rather than stepping out and putting himself at risk, Saul is preserving himself. His concern among God’s people is not sacrificial service but self-preservation.
Next, we see that Saul troubles God’s people as they seek to be faithful, rather than aiding them. That is Jonathan’s assessment in verse twenty-nine. So how exactly has Saul troubled God’s people as they seek to be faithful?
The primary way was by placing an unnecessary, harsh, and foolish burden on them. The people were already in a difficult situation and then rather than helping them, rather than coming alongside them, rather than finding a way to lighten their load, Saul places an extra, unnecessary burden on them! He pronounces a curse on any who eat.
And the effects of this ripple outward. As a result of this foolish burden, the people are weary and faint, we read in verse thirty-one. Their eyes are dimmed, we learn in verse twenty-seven. What should be a day of rejoicing in the Lord’s deliverance is instead a day of low spirits.
But then, even worse, the added burden drives the people to sin by eating in a ceremonially unclean way. That is what happens in verse thirty-two.
Before we get there, we read in verse thirty-one that Israel “struck down the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon. And the people were very faint.” And verse thirty-two goes on to tell of how they pounced on the spoil and ate.
Israel was both faint and famished. And it is no wonder. “Aijalon was approximately twenty miles west of Michmash, and” as one commentator puts it, “the terrain is not flat like western Kansas.” Saul forbid the soldiers from eating while calling them to not just travel twenty miles, but travel twenty miles on rough terrain, while fighting the Philistines!
When they arrive, they slaughter the animals taken as spoil, and they prepare the meat and eat without first taking the longer step of fully draining the blood, which God’s ceremonial law required for Israel. In other words, Saul’s burden overwhelms the people, so they give in to the temptation to break God’s ceremonial law.
Now, of course the people were responsible for their own actions … but a real failure in Saul is also seen here. He placed a burden on the people of God and ignored their limits and weaknesses. Psalm 103 says that God “knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” God remembers the limits and weaknesses of his people. We are called to do the same. Saul here, does not.
Saul’s troubling of Israel lowers their spirits, it pushes them to break God’s law, and as all of this unfolds we see that in response Saul blames not himself, but everyone else. He lashes out at Israel in verse thirty-three, rather than acknowledging his role in their sin. And he goes even further a few verses later.
When Saul inquires of God in verse thirty-seven and God does not answer, rather than reflecting on his own failure to listen to God and considering whether that might have a role in God’s silence, Saul fixates on the oath he took and inquires as to who broke it. He is sure that the cause of the problem lies outside himself. He takes lots over the broken oath, and Jonathan is identified – Jonathan who broke Saul’s oath without knowing about it.
Saul blames others, and then responds with almost unimaginable harshness. We should note that there was nothing in Saul’s original oath that required the death of someone who broke it! But Saul sentences Jonathan to death. The same Saul who refused the temptation to put his enemies to death a few chapters earlier is now ready to put his own son to death – his son who just won him a battle against God’s enemies – and he is willing to do it on the basis of Jonathan’s unintentional breaking of a foolish vow Saul had taken. It is only when his fellow Israelites step in that Jonathan is spared.
How does Saul trouble God’s people? Rather than help them he places unnecessary burdens on them, he wearies them, he presses them in ways that tempt them to sin, he blames others, and he responds to those who displease him in intensely harsh ways. Rather than aiding God’s people, Saul troubles them.
Saul focuses on self-preservation for himself, while he troubles the people of God, and finally we see he hinders the blessing God wants to bring to his people.
It is Jonathan who identifies this in verse thirty: It is because of the burden that Saul has placed on God’s people that their victory will be good … but not great. God might have done more … but rather than working with God, Saul has hindered God’s work.
This is the image of Saul we get. And as that image comes together, we should remember what it flows out of. Saul’s problem was not that he did not read enough books on leadership. His problem was not primarily leadership skills. His treatment of God’s people grew out of his relationship with God.
Saul listened to others rather than God. He fought for himself rather than God. He saw God as a means to his own ends, and he lived in fear of what he might personally lose.
And as a result of all that, when Saul was with God’s people and challenges came his way, Saul responded with cowardly self-preservation, he added to the burden of God’s people, and in the end, he hindered God’s work among them.
Think of that picture and consider again your own relationship to God’s people: in our church, in your family, in your relationships, and in other ministries. What role do you tend to play? Do you see some elements of Saul’s treatment of Israel? Hopefully it is not as extreme … but are some of the basic ingredients there? And if so … do you see how it might grow out of your relationship with God – just as it did for Saul?
None of us are perfect … each of us has traces of Saul in our lives … where does it show up in your life?
Thankfully, as is often the case in Scripture, our text not only gives as a picture of what to avoid, in Saul, but it also gives us a picture of what to aim for in Jonathan.
While Saul show us cowardly self-preservation, the troubling and burdening of God’s people, and the hindering of God’s work among his people, Jonathan shows us faithful courage, the aid of God’s people, and working with God among God’s people.
First, we see that faithful courage first in verse six, and then in verses thirteen through fifteen. Jonathan takes the statement of faith that nothing can hinder Yahweh from saving by many or by few, and he puts it into action through faithful courage. In verses thirteen through fifteen he and his armor bearer, two men, attack the Philistine garrison based on the direction of the Lord. Jonathan steps out in faithful courage himself.
Second, in his very deed of faithful courage, Jonathan inspires faith and courage among God’s people. And that faith and courage ripples out from Jonathan’s actions.
First in verse seven, it inspires his armor-bearer to pledge himself to follow Jonathan into battle.
Next it moves on to the Israelites who were with Saul, as they join Jonathan and his armor-bearer in battle in verse twenty.
From there, it inspires the Israelites who had betrayed Israel and become mercenaries for the Philistines. Stop and recognize the significance of verse twenty-one for a moment: Not only faithful Israelites were inspired to faith and courage by Jonathan’s faithful courage. Even bad Israelites – those who had betrayed Israel – were inspired by him to repent and join God’s people again.
After that, in verse twenty-two we read that the cowardly among Israel, who had hidden themselves, were inspired to come out now and fight.
Jonathan’s faithful courage led to faith, courage, and repentance among God’s people. He gave them a picture of faith to imitate – and they imitated it.
Even after the battle, in verse forty-five, one wonders if it was not the courage they saw exemplified in Jonathan that led the Israelites to courageously stand up to Saul and save Jonathan from unjust execution.
Jonathan steps out in faithful courage, he aids the people so that they act in faith, and courage, and repentance. And in the end, we are told that where Saul hindered God’s work, Jonathan worked with God. That is what the Israelites declare in verse forty-five.
And as with Saul, Jonathan’s success was not rooted in skill but in his own spiritual state. Jonathan was able to step out in faithful courage, to inspire and aid the faith of God’s people, and to work with God among God’s people, and it was rooted in his relationship with God. It was rooted in the reality that he was one who avoided dubious input but listened well to God, one who fought for Yahweh rather than himself, one who lived in light of God’s sovereign freedom, and who practiced faithful imagination.
Where has God by his Spirit worked Jonathan-like qualities in your life? Where has he begun such work in you? And how can you continue to intentionally nurture those areas God has been at work in your relationship with him and with his people, to aim more and more intentionally at a life like Jonathan’s?
Our text gives us these pictures of how Jonathan and Saul relate to God and how they relate to God’s people.
But then in verses forty-seven through fifty-two our text adds one more thing for our consideration. And it is something we can easily miss.
In the historical books, the records of an Israelite ruler’s victories are often followed by reference to his building projects or the growth of his family. And that is what we get in this last section.
And what should strike us is that the assessment if Saul sounds so positive. Beginning in verse forty-seven we read: “47 When Saul had taken the kingship over Israel, he fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, against the Ammonites, against Edom, against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines. Wherever he turned he routed them. 48 And he did valiantly and struck the Amalekites and delivered Israel out of the hands of those who plundered them.” Saul is described as a military success. In then in verses forty-nine through fifty-one we read of the growth and increase of Saul’s family.
An assessment of Saul’s worldly success is given in this last section … and here we learn that Saul was in fact a worldly success. He had a high-achieving kingship.
Saul was a spiritual and relational failure … and he was also a worldly success. Our chapter reminds us that that is a real possibility.
And by implication it also reminds us that the opposite is true. Because that is what we see in Jonathan.
Jonathan will never be king. He will never reach the worldly success Saul did. And it won’t be for any failure on his part, but because of the failure of someone else – because of the failure of Saul – because of something completely out of Jonathan’s control.
Jonathan will be a spiritual and relational success … and a huge disappointment when it comes to worldly achievement. Our text reminds us that that too is a possibility.
Now, of course these are not the only two options in life. But still … in some ways our texts seem to press a question upon us: If these were your two options, which would you choose?
Not which should you choose, but which would you really choose: To have your name in the annals of the kings, with piles of worldly success like Saul … though a spiritual and relational failure? Or to have the obscurity and disappointments of Jonathan … while being a spiritual and relational success?
Which would you choose? The answer to that question tells us who our real God is in our hearts: whether it is Yahweh or ourselves.
Our text gives us two pictures here, and it urges us to follow the path of Jonathan and to forsake the path of Saul.
That can be inspiring, or it can be discouraging.
If you find it discouraging, let me remind you of two things in closing.
First, many of us will not begin as Jonathans, but as those who follow a Jonathan – who look on at the faith of another and imitate him or her, just as the Israelites did.
Who in your life might fill that role for you? Who is a Jonathan in your life that you can grow by looking to more, by learning from more, and by following into battle? That is the first thing for us to consider.
The second is the charge to remember the ultimate Jonathan. The Jonathan in our text ultimately points us to the greater Jonathan … the one who on a much larger scale forsook worldly success in order to serve God and deliver God’s people – a greater Jonathan who was also willing to accept death in the process.
Jesus Christ our Lord, our greater Jonathan, does not leave us to the task of spiritual growth alone. He is our Lord and he is our leader. He is the one we ultimately follow into battle. And so, let us remember to look to him for the strength, the leadership, the faith, and the power that we need in order to follow in his footsteps and walk in the ways of Jonathan ourselves.
This sermon draws on material from:
Alter, Robert. The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999.
Davis, Dale Ralph. I Samuel: Looking on the Heart. Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2000.
Firth, David G. 1 & 2 Samuel. Apollos Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009.
Leithart, Peter J. A Son to Me: An Exposition of 1 & 2 Samuel. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003.