- Psalm 2
- 1 Samuel 13:16-14:14
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
The high school I attended was a blip on the radar compared to some city schools. But we had a very good rugby team. Spurred on by an enthusiastic local crowd of fellow students, and an even more passionate parent community, we won our fare share of matches and trophies.
One day we faced a strong school which could select their 15 players from hundreds of students; in our case, in that particular age group, everyone had to play to make up the numbers. The match was a no-brainer considering also the strength of our opponents.
This is where strategy came in. Our teacher-trainer exploited our physical size: if we could be quicker in all we do, passed out the ball faster and side-step them quicker, we stood a chance. But, and this was the clincher, we had to be super fit.
Going down in one of the scrums I got a full boot of the opposite team right on my nose, and almost passed out on the spot. Suddenly rugby was not my game and I thought to play dead, remained on my back, and waited for the pain police (as we called the first aid team then) to carry me off. But then I remembered the victory! There was no-one to replace me. I swallowed my blood, got up and did my part. I did’t score any try—I can’t remember ever scoring anything—but our team won! No-one was a hero, the whole team was.
We are not outnumbered
If what the media tells us is true, Christians are totally outnumbered, and therefore totally outdated. What is interesting, is that more people find themselves in churches today—in Melbourne only—than there were footy supporters in the MCG yesterday. The sad part however is that a great deal of those who are worshipping today do not believe victory is possible.
Are we indeed outnumbered? We have to say, No! On what do we base this statement? Let’s go to the chapter we read in 1 Samuel.
Chapter 13:15 reads, “Saul counted the men who were with him. They number about six hundred.” Compare that with the “soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore” (13:5) of the Philistines. It doesn’t paint a bright picture, does it? Let’s read on.
The Philistines mastered the art of metal extraction and made sure they held the monopoly over it. Should the Israelites need weapons or plow shears, they had to beg the enemy for help.
Verse 22 makes this statement:
So on the day of the battle not a soldier with Saul and Jonathan had a sword or spear in his hand; only Saul and his son Jonathan had them. (1 Samuel 13:22)
What a hopeless situation! Let’s face it, in this regard we are helpless too.
Compared with our enemy we have nothing: they own the mass media like radio, television and news papers. Add to this the new weapons of mass destruction: electronic social media. Sure, we can use these platforms, we still need their platforms. Already we know that certain posts on like Facebook and Twitter, which are deemed to be politically incorrect, are removed at the leisure of their policymakers. However, many a televangelist clamber for the numbers of followers as they too build electronic, flat-screen churches to gather millions to listen to a message which is not much different from the other side. They preach entertainment, prosperity and achievement is tools of salvation. We agree with Neil Postman, we are “amusing ourselves to death.”
Another platform of mass destruction in hands of the enemy is music. One gets the impression the microphone and amplified sound—one can hardly call it music—have become a battlefield for the mind, with millions of casualties in its cemetery. Our young people are killed with beat and destructive lyrics. The sad state of affairs is that many Christian worship leaders are of the opinion that we should join the swaying crowds in the hope that we might win some, but for as long as we are true to our Saviour and his Word, we are not outnumbered.
One with God is a majority
Jonathan looked at what was to his disposal, and employed that little bit to attack. He believed that God provided all which was needed to secure the victory.
A self-assured enemy
After Saul retreated from Gilgal, then not even engaging in battle, the vast army of the Philistines went on raiding parties. One division went north to Ophrah, another went west to Beth Horon, and a third went east towards the Jordan Valley. This left the basecamp in Michmash on the north side of the gorge between the armies of Saul and the Philistines exposed. In that moment they were so self-confident about their victory that they had their eyes off the ball.
King Saul and the men with him were nowhere to be seen. As appointed king to subdue the Philistines, we find him subdued. Filled with fear they were (if we follow the advice of some commentators) hiding in the Pomegranate caves. Others fled to the eastern side of the Jordan, and others hid themselves in hills of Ephraim to the north. This situation further attributed to the false sense of security of the Philistines.
If we reconstruct Jonathan’s attack it seems that he and his off-sider were monitoring the activities of the Philistines in the basecamp at Michmash.
According to 14:1 a detachment left the basecamp to do a regular assessment over the gorge. They used an rocky outcrop which extended over the edge of the ravine. These occasions might even have served as a show of force, almost like when Goliath was used to scare the Israelites out of action.
The gorge at Michmash was deep and treacherous, but Jonathan and his armour bearer knew the terrain very well. There was a steep cliff with an outcrop on Jonathan’s side too. He and his armour-bearer established their observation post in the cover in the shadow of this outcrop, while the Philistines each morning paraded themselves in the bright morning sun. Jonathan observed their movements and, most probably under the cover of darkness before sunset, left their observation post and crossed the gorge to be on the other side at sunset, most probably then under the rocky outcrop.
We’ve already heard that with Israel there were only two swords available, one Saul had with him while hiding under the cover of the pomegranates, and the other was strapped to the belt of Jonathan’s armour-bearer. It was not that they had no sword—they had two, or at least one! Would you see that as sufficient? Would you attack a vast army with only one sword to your disposal? Keep in mind, the battle was not that of Jonathan.
Jonathan said to his young armour-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.” (1 Samuel 14:6, NIV)
Jonathan looked saw in the Philistines not his personal enemy, but the enemy of God—they were the were “uncircumcised”—a term to refer to all who oppose armies of the living God.
“Perhaps” tells us that Jonathan undertood that his actions would only be an instrument in the hands of God. His faith would not secure the victory; the God whom he believed and trusted would give victory.
The outcome is not based on the number of the army, nor on the number of swords, because “nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.”
Although Jonathan understood that the battle belonged to the Lord, he knew his involvement. And this is something we must learn from Jonathan. We don’t need to be strong, intelligent, rich, loaded with money or influence to contribute to the battle; we only need to be available for the battle; our Lord is the Commander-in-Chief.
Jonathan presented himself to the Philistines. Humanly speaking, this was an accident looking for a place to happen. The plan also looked ludicrous: going up towards to the enemy; it was not ambushing the enemy unawares. We sometimes just need to show our stance publicly.
“But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ we will climb up, because that will be our sign that the Lord has given them into our hands.” (1 Samuel 14:10, NIV)
He did not wait for the enemy to start the battle, but trusted God to be saved initiating the combat on their turf—that’s where he could inflict casualty. How? One by one! It seemed as if Jonathan did not even have in his hands that only sword to his disposal. With his bare hands he started to pull the Philistines over the cliff, only for his armour-bearer for finish them off. They killed twenty.
The success of the strategy possibly left the greater contingent of Philistines at Michmash to believe that there was a whole army hidden in the gorge, and they started to panic. Weakened in number due to the raiding parties which went out, they started to run into one another in confusion. The news spread to the raiding parties and those in other outposts, and with command and discipline they got stuck into one another.
The Lord of the battle ordained the whole defeat. For good measure God sent a little earthquake (14:15), which sent total confusion as they started to kill one another (14:20). When Saul eventually realised what was happening and dared to come out of hiding, he became onlooker of a battle he was too scared to be involved in! Even the Israelites who earlier hid themselves in caves, and other who crossed the Jordan as they deserted Saul’s army, stood in amazement as the mighty Philistine army imploded. Don’t you just can’t resist to join a winning battle!
We might be tempted to lift up Jonathan and his side-kick as the heroes of this victory. Looking back on the Reformation 500 years ago, we might look at Luther as a hero. Did Luther not say,
“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God, except precisely that point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, then I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battlefront besides, is mere flight and disgrace, if he flinches at that point.”
Did he not speak like a hero when he challenged the mighty Roman Church?
“Unless I am convinced by Scripture and by clear reasoning that I am in error – for popes and councils have often erred and contradicted themselves – I cannot recant, for I am subject to the Scriptures I have quoted; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. It is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against one’s conscience. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. So help me God. Amen.”
Some historians thought he was trembling at that point, and could hardly be heard. No hero!
Over the victory are written these words:
So on that day the Lord saved Israel. (1 Samuel 14:23, NIV)
When our Lord Jesus Christ took on the battle of all battles on Calvary Hill He disarmed the forces of evil, He did not even need the sword Peter wielded in Gethsemane. With his life He secured the battle. That was the turning point in history which after that day was divided between the time B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini, the Year of our Lord).
When He rose on the third day to leave the tomb empty He disarmed the powers and authorities of this world and made a spectacle of their commander, the Devil (Colossians 2:15).
In this cosmic battle you and I might feel completely outnumbered and ineffective. Remember,
“Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.” (1 Samuel 14:6, NIV)
There was victory in Michmash, but not by the king. There was victory on Calvary, and this victory was by the King! The king is dead; long live the King! Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 24 September 2017