This is one of the most derring-do passages in Scripture. The Philistines challenge Jonathan “Come on up if you think you’re hard enough”, so he does!
Lack of Leadership + Fear = Passivity
Israel had stalled under Saul’s poor leadership. 3 times he has given in to fear and the people of God are now in a state where the army is 600 strong and there are no weapons among them except for the swords of Saul and Jonathan his son. Passivity has led to Saul sitting unfer a pomegranate tree. Meanwhile Jonathan says to his armour bearer – “Come let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side.” It’ll be a challenge involving a climb and attacking a vastly superior force. Jonathan tells the young man again “Come let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or few.”
Calling the Philistines “the uncircumcised” makes it clear Jonathan and his armour bearer are part of the people of God, and the Philistines are not.
It maybe that the Lord will work for us makes it clear this is a suicide mission, but done trusting God. Just as I preached on Sunday about going from fear to faith – they had counted the cost, come up with a plan and announced it to each other.
It is one of those inspiring speeches that motivates action. Like Churchill’s I have nothing to offer but blood, sweat and tears, or JFK’s we will put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. It’s faith filled and faith is as contagious as fear. The armour bearer declares “Behold I am with you heart and soul.” When the Philistines challenge them to Come on up, they do. They go up and kill 20 in the first strike. The Lord sends a panic and the Philistines start killing each other and then fleeing. A great battle is won – that’s what happens when God grabs hold of someone who is available and willing to go for it – perhaps!
A young man called William Carey was like Jonathan when he refused to listen to older and more experienced leaders and travelled to India to preach the Gospel – “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” was his announcement! In the process he became the father of modern missions. A medical student Hudson Taylor was similar as he took up the challenge to preach the gospel in China. With odds stacked against him and the dangers it would entail, he went believing “All God’s giants have been weak men, who did great tings for God because they reckoned on His being with them.”
Saul meanwhile tries to find who went off on their own initiative – maybe he’s worried about who will take the credit. He then gets the priest and the ark to seek God. Its only when the rout of the Philistines is blindingly obvious that he tells the Priest to “withdraw his hand” – to stop seeking God by the Umim and Thummin and finally gets into the battle. There’s a time for prayer and a time for action. Saul is unsure what the time is!
I’ve loved our current series on prayer and am hoping and praying it is igniting more and more prayer, but there are times when “prayer” is a cop out. Saul was hiding behind the super-spiritual instead of entering the battle. As Carey Nieuwhof wrote in this post on 3 leadership cop outs
1. ALL WE NEED TO DO IS PRAY ABOUT IT
This sounds so good. After all, how can prayer be a BAD thing?
I mean how are you supposed to counter that? It puts you or anyone around you in a horribly awkward position.
If you disagree, you sound like you’re coming out against prayer.
If you agree, you’ve just mothballed any productive strategy conversations.
I mean who really wants to come out against prayer? Not me. Not you.
And so, not sure what to do, we shut down the leadership conversation and all the potential that comes with it.
Prayer alone can become a smokescreen. Why? Because while prayer is foundational, God almost always moves people to do something.
Challenging huh? There’s a time for everything. A time for prayer and a time for action.
Saul is going to get even more foolish. There’s a time for fasting and a time for fuelling in the middle of action. Routing Philistines back to where they came from is not a time for fasting. It’s a time for carb loading and going for it. We do need to fast more and we need fuel for the fight God has called us too. Saul’s rash vow that didn’t come from the Lord makes him look even more foolish and undermines his leadership further.
Let’s expect great things from God and attempt great things for God. Come on up, if you think you’re hard enough!