A Step of Faith - I Samuel 14:1-23
Rev. Dr. Ernest Brodie Jr.
As the nation of Israel faced impossible odds, things quickly went from bad to worse in 1 Samuel 14. In 1 Samuel 13, Jonathan, King Saul’s son, attacked a Philistine garrison deep in Israel territory. The Philistines showed up in mass with thousands of chariots, 6,000 horsemen, and an army that stretched for miles. Saul was still a new king. To make matters worse, his army began to scatter when they saw the size of the Philistine army. He attempted to fix the situation by making an offering to the Lord; however, he violated the specific instructions of Samuel and angered both the aged prophet and God. If that was not enough, the army of Israel possessed only two swords. Saul and Jonathan each had one, but no one knew where Jonathan was. King Saul was set for a very short reign as king.
In 1 Samuel 14, we pick up with the adventures of Jonathan as he attempts to step out by faith. Jonathan and his armor-bearer went on a fact-finding mission to see what the Philistines were doing. This action was not without risk as they could have been captured and killed. As the king’s son, Jonathan could have sent others to spy on the enemy. Instead, Jonathan put the needs of the nation first. There are times when we must step out of our safety zone to serve God.
While Jonathan attempted to gather more information about the Philistines, Saul sat under a tree on the side of a mountain in Gibeah contemplating the situation he now faced. He may have been worrying about what lies ahead or about the words of Samuel the prophet who said that Saul’s kingdom would not continue (1 Samuel 13:14). He may have been trying to convince himself that his actions in offering the sacrifice before Samuel arrived were necessary. After all, Samuel took too long to get there, and the Philistines were getting ready to attack. He could have easily convinced himself that it was not his fault God was angry with him. We must be careful to not blame others for our own disobedience.
The High Priest, Ahiah, was with Saul, perhaps as a counselor to him. In 1 Samuel 14:18, King Saul asked Ahiah to bring the Ark of the Covenant into the battle. Saul was desperate. It may only be hours before he faced certain death. He had a limited army, no weapons, and possibly no support from the Lord. The last time the Philistines came in contact with the Ark of the Covenant (1 Samuel 5 and 6), thousands died. Saul felt at the very least the Ark might intimidate the Philistines. What Saul really needed was a miracle from God. At this point, Saul was so focused on the situation at hand that he lost track of Jonathan.
Jonathan and his armor-bearer were scouting around the outskirts of the enemy encampment, when Jonathan discovered a passage through the rocks, which led behind the enemy lines. When the passage was discovered, Jonathan made it clear that the Lord could win the victory. Victory is not based on numbers. Jonathan told his armor-bearer that God could use many or just a few to gain the victory. He now wanted to take on the Philistines. The armor-bearer was in full agreement.
Before attacking, Jonathan was determined to see the attitude of the Philistines. If God had been working in their hearts to be afraid even though they vastly outnumbered the Jewish people, then Jonathan believed the Philistines would back down from chasing after Jonathan and the armor-bearer. If the Philistines did come after the two of them, they would make their escape. When Jonathan revealed himself to the Philistines, they quickly responded with insults, however, they do not follow after Jonathan. Jonathan’s suspicions regarding the Philistines and their fear of the Israelites are confirmed. They would not come after Jonathan despite there being 20 or more soldiers. The Philistines were afraid. Jonathan knew that God had put fear in their hearts.
Jonathan and the armor-bearer established positions in the rocks along the passage close to the Philistines’ position. As the Philistines attempted to get Jonathan, he and his armor-bearer quickly finished them off. Jonathan took a step of faith by going after the Philistines. Following the attack on Jonathan and his armor-bearer, the Philistine army was gripped by fear. At end of verse 15, an earthquake took place. This certainly sent fear into the hearts of the Philistines who were waiting to see if the God of Israel would appear.
From King Saul’s place on the side of the mountain, he watched as the Philistine army began to run. He noticed that the Philistines were actually running each other over and even started attacking the men within their own army. Saul was stunned by the events and wondered what or whom the army was running from. He discovered Jonathan and his armor-bearer were missing. Saul then called Ahiah, the High Priest to bring the Ark of the Covenant into the battle. As the noise of the Philistines increased, Saul cancelled his order to the priest. There was no time to wait. He needed to act quickly.
Saul got the troops who remained with him ready to enter the battle. By now, he realized that the Philistine army was coming apart. Even the Israelites who joined the Philistines before the battle were now turned against the Philistines. Those who had hidden themselves in the mountains and the caves came out to fight. The Philistines were on the run, and the full army of Israel now joined the fight. There is no other conclusion to the sudden change than God’s intervention. God saved Israel from destruction in the face of insurmountable odds.
There are times that God awaits our obedience before He steps in to rescue us. Even when we face impossible odds, God can still win the victory. We must not give up, run, or hide in the face of adversity. God promises to never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). In 1 Corinthians 10:13, God promises to make a way to escape when temptations overwhelm us: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make away to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” Rather than sit on the side of a hill like King Saul, take the steps necessary to conquer the world, the flesh, and the devil.