“Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.”
In the last chapter, we lamented the Israelites’ loss of liberty, specifically in regard to their disarmament. This subjugation was imposed by the Philistines but apparently winked at and allowed to remain by their own fearless champion Saul. We also noted that the people were certainly as much to blame for having disobeyed the Lord. All of this came about in direct fulfillment of Samuel’s prophetic warnings. In short, liberty was a gift from God—but a gift which brought with it certain responsibilities. The people lost liberty because they abused grace.
In chapter 14, we see two examples of grass-roots level obedience restoring liberty to the people, albeit temporarily. In the first account, this takes place on an individual level. The heroism of Jonathan and his armor-bearer brings about a national victory which inspires the people and leads to the second account. In this, a grassroots movement speaks out collectively to prevent Saul’s establishment from administering its bad law and executing Jonathan. We will deal with the latter episode in a separate sermon.
Today we will focus upon Jonathan’s courageous faith. He takes up the responsibility that is requisite for a society to be free. He engages in civil disobedience, risks his life for the cause, and illustrates the psychological leavening an armed populace has on crime and tyranny in society. In much of what he and his armor-bearer do here, they are an example to us today.
We were first introduced to Jonathan in the last chapter when he led an impromptu raid upon the Philistine post in Geba. He seemed a little rash even if highly courageous at the time. His actions led to a massive military buildup and confrontation by the Philistines. The Hebrews fled and hid in fear, Saul failed and was rejected by God. We are picking up now at that point. What is about to occur makes me of a mind to say that God allowed Jonathan to perform the attack of 13:3 so that He could then lead Jonathan in this miraculous deliverance for which no man—especially Saul—could take credit. Remember, Saul was sitting idle in 13:3 when Jonathan won a victory. Yet Saul took credit for it, letting news be spread that he had led the victory. This time would not be so. Saul would instead end up publicly shamed.
In other words, God is here setting up one more victory in which He alone could get the glory, and which we must categorize only the under the heading of God’s grace—a gift from God. It is only fitting then that the central figure in this episode is Jonathan, whose name means “gift of God.” He will exemplify the gifts and obedience God gives to His elect remnant. His goal will be to glorify God in the pursuit of the promises of God. Liberty is one of those gifts. As a gift, it cannot be achieved merely by man’s works. Yet as Jonathan’s example shows, God’s gifts will be exercised through His faithful remnant in order to bring about His promises. True faith will always be accompanied by a particular obedience—works according to God’s Law. Thus we can say that grace brings with it responsibility. God’s gifts to us entail a subsequent responsibility. If any society is to be free, it must obey God’s Word. Indeed, sometimes we must fight uphill to obey God’s Word. Liberty always has with it this particular responsibility.
At the outset, we see Jonathan taking initiative. He shows the same type of self-starting leadership as he did in attacking Geba, except now he is with a force of only two. Yet he is still willing to initiate a battle. As the opposite of initiative, we are shown ineptitude and complacency, yet in a spirit of entitlement: in the face of imminent attack from the Philistines, Saul is found sitting under the shade of a pomegranate tree (14:2). Most translations merely describe Saul as “staying” or “abiding,” but I believe the New Jerusalem Bible and the Septuagint are correct to see this as literally sitting—a display of enthronement. The Hebrew word can go either way, but is used earlier in 1 Samuel to describe inept, corrupt Eli’s “sitting” (1 Sam. 1:9; 4:13), as well as Saul later. Saul is here exercising royal prerogative. That he does so specifically under a pomegranate tree is also illuminating. The pomegranate tree is a recurrent symbol of Eden: pomegranates were used as decorations for the tabernacle and later temple, and were a prominent feature of the fruitful rest of the Promised Land. For Saul to plant himself here at such a time as this is to make a mockery of biblical theology and the promise of God’s blessings. Not so with Jonathan. He did not sit and wait; he did not make any great show of himself, but he was ready to do something great.
The odds were strongly against Jonathan’s two-man plan. Not only did the Philistines greatly outnumber them, but there was a difficult chasm lined by sharp rocks between the two sides. The Hebrew text describes the rocks on the two facing cliffs as “teeth” on each side. Jonathan would have to cross through the very mouth of the beast. The climbing down one side into the depth of the valley would represent death; but climbing back out to the top on the other side would be resurrection. As he “resurrected,” he would be defeating the enemy as we went.
Not only did Jonathan not fear, but he encouraged those around him in the same courageous faith as well. He convinces his armor-bearer to go with him. Armor-bearers appear more in 1 Samuel than anywhere else in Scripture. Armor-bearers had the unenviable task of aiding their masters in battle and defending them with their very own lives. They were chosen and trained to be fiercely loyal. Jonathan’s would follow him to victory. David later became armor-bearer to Saul (1 Sam. 16:21) and served faithfully. Goliath had one (17:7, 41) who apparently fled after the fatal stone landed. If he remained there, he stood idly by while David beheaded the giant with the very sword for which the armor-bearer should have been responsible. Finally, in the end of the book, Saul’s armor-bearer refuses to kill his fatally-wounded master, but after Saul commits suicide, the armor-bearer can think of nothing else to live for himself and falls on his own sword as well (1 Sam. 31:4–6). The lessons throughout are consistent: loyalty is a great virtue, but only if in the service of faithfulness to God. Loyalty to a wicked establishment will lead to a fall with the wicked establishment. There will be no Nuremburg defenses in the Kingdom of God. Yet we must still encourage and inspire those who follow us to action and to the following of orders—just proper and faithful orders.
Jonathan then devised a plan to determine how he would negotiate the chasm. He would call to the enemy, making their presence known and visible. If the enemy crossed over after them, well enough. Jonathan and his man would wait and fight them on their ground. But if the Philistines taunted them to come over to their side, Jonathan would especially take this as a sign that God had delivered them into their hand. He would then undertake the crossing and the uphill battle against them (14:8–10). But the encouragement he gave his armor-bearer would be the driving motto: Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few. The recognition here is that this battle is the Lord’s, and the Lord hardly needs massive numbers on His side. “The battle is the Lord’s” is a much better military slogan than any other. It’s the original “Army of One,” which was never fitting for a mere human army; and it gives semper fidelis its true meaning, because you always have to ask the follow up, “Faithful to whom, ultimately?”
In all of this—the decision to go fight, motivating his armor-bearer, and the formulation of a plan—Jonathan showed faithful initiative. This was initiative that even the king did not have, or perhaps we should say especially the king did not have. Establishments have a way of avoiding faithful duty when it becomes difficult. Instead, they tend to exalt and insulate themselves at the expense of the people. In times like these, godly leadership must arise from elsewhere: either a faithful lesser magistrate (perhaps we could argue that Jonathan fits this description) or the grassroots level.
It is also worth noting that in doing this, Jonathan had to set aside popular opinion. Of course, the vast majority of Israelites nearby were hiding in caves and rocks, but the rest of Jonathan’s immediate peers would have been the six hundred soldiers who remained with Saul. Considering the circumstances, these would have to have been the few remaining fiercely loyal to Saul’s establishment. They probably admired him as he graced the throne of his own little Eden among them. These would not have wanted to rock the establishment boat, or to see the establishment challenged by young upstarts. These were the McCains and Boehners of the ancient world. Jonathan would have been acting in the face of all of this—the fear of the populace, and likely strong opposition from the rest of Saul’s party (we will see this party causing havoc for David in future chapters). Thus, Jonathan’s initiative had to overcome the additional inertia of peer pressure and the intimidation of power politics. It is no wonder that he did so quietly so that none of these people even realized he was gone (14:3). He had to create the alternative successfully before they even had a chance to criticize it.
Naturally, the Philistines chose to taunt Jonathan to come over after them. This is simple risk calculation. Whoever crossed over would end up having to fight uphill, and high ground is the advantage. The Philistines thought they were giving themselves every advantage. They were quite confident about it: “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing” (14:12). They should have remembered from past battles that the battle is the Lord’s. Their memory was about to be jogged. Jonathan knew this, and did not mind risking his life for the liberty of God’s people.
Jonathan led and his armor-bearer followed. The text says, 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. (14:13). From this simple description, we do not get anywhere near the magnitude of this extraordinary military feat. Jonathan was rock-climbing on a very jagged, vertical, and difficult cliff. He had to do this while fighting Philistines positioned at points along the way up. This means that in some cases, he likely had to climb with one hand and fight with the other. Yet he prevailed. As the enemy fell wounded, the armor-bearer finished the job behind. In these conditions they killed 20 men in roughly an “acre” of land. Of course, the ancient Hebrews did not use modern acres; the text more literally says “about half a furrow of a yoke of a field” (YLT), meaning roughly half the area a team of oxen would plow in a day. I estimate this to be a strip about 200 feet long. Jonathan and his armor bearer climbed the upward crags for roughly 200 feet, killing Philistine soldiers every ten feet as they went.
Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammo
By the time Jonathan reached this point, panic set in throughout the local Philistine camp. It spread throughout the greater assembly of the enemy. Part of the reason for this was that Jonathan was armed with a sword—something the Philistines thought they had thoroughly eliminated in Israel (see the previous sermon). Now that they thought the Hebrews were coming out of their hiding places, and were surprised to find one armed, they probably supposed that the Hebrews had somehow secretly manufactured them for themselves. They expected many more swords to be coming their way. Jonathan’s exploits alone showed that the Israelites were armed and ready to fight back, and could do so successfully.
Thus we see the psychological effects an armed populace has on crime and tyranny. The populace didn’t even have to be armed (it actually was not). The enemy only had to believe the people may have arms. That was enough. Fear set in. They aborted their mission. They began to run and scatter. The Lord punctuated this spreading fear with divine power: an earthquake. The Philistines’ memories of Yaweh were renewed. It became a very great panic (14:15).
Saul’s watchmen could actually observe the results of the panic: the Philistine multitudes dispersed into chaos. The watchmen reported back and Saul launched an investigation into what had happened. Not surprisingly, the establishment is behind the game and caught by surprise when God actually moves. Saul called to have the people numbered to see who was missing. Note how the establishment cripples itself with dependency on bureaucracy. “We can’t make a decision until we have collected and analyzed all the data.” Finally he realized Jonathan and his armor-bearer were gone. He called for the priest to consult the Lord, yet while waiting to hear from the Lord, the noise in the Philistine camp continued to grow. God was already at work through Jonathan and on His own—He had not even bothered to stop and consult Saul. So Saul did what any good politician would do: he jumped in front of the parade as if he were leading it. Saul and all the people who were with him rallied and went into the battle (14:20).
The chaos among the Philistines grew. They were so frightened, discombobulated, and desperate in battle they began swinging wildly. They ended up killing each other. God’s great move through Jonathan’s sword and the earthquake then opened the way for a groundswell of support throughout Israel.
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. 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. So the LORD saved Israel that day (1 Sam 14:21–23).
Of course the battle is the Lord’s, and He shall get all the glory. But let us not forget that God often works through and with His people. The Lord used Jonathan to initiate and lead this great revival and victory. None of this, therefore, would have taken place without the willing and faithful servant, in this case Jonathan. None of this would have taken place apart from his initiative, courage, indifference to peer pressure, and willingness to risk his life for liberty. Moreover, all of this had to be done against the policies of both the enemy abroad (the Philistines) and the establishment at home. This was civil disobedience pure and simple, and it was on multiple issues: it defied civil tradition, foreign policy, tax policy, arms policy, military policy, international treaty, and more.
We can make obvious applications in regard to Jonathan’s initiative, vision, and courage, but since these here take place within the context of civil disobedience, we need to make more specific observations. Yes, we must follow his example, but to do so thoughtlessly or recklessly would not be faithfulness to God—and such faithfulness has to be both the means and end of Christians in society, civil disobedience or not.
1. Civil disobedience is not just a right but a duty
In recent times, perhaps the most well-known Christian addressing the issue of civil disobedience was Francis Schaeffer. He devoted a couple chapters of his Christian Manifesto to the topic. Most of his points were justification in the form of historical reminder: civil disobedience has been an integral part of Christian life since the first days. Of course, we remember the classic verse of the apostles in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.” This was but the beginning of a long history of Christians being forced to choose between the Law of God and the laws of men. The early church defied Caesar worship, Tyndale later defied laws against Bible translation, John Bunyan defied laws against unlicensed preaching. Schaeffer adds, “In almost every place where the Reformation had success there was some form of civil disobedience or armed rebellion.” He lists the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, England, Scotland, Hungary, France, and Spain.
You get the picture. No civil disobedience, no Reformation. There were those at the time who recognized this not only in practice but were afforded the time (while in prison, often) to put it into theory. John Knox and Samuel Rutherford both further developed earlier theories of civil disobedience. Both concluded that the people had not only a right but a moral duty to resist unjust and tyrannical government. This applies not only to lesser magistrates, they argued, but to the people also.
But this must be done with wisdom and according to certain guidelines. First, when is it OK to disobey? Following Samuel Rutherford’s Lex Rex, Schaeffer notes that only if “the state deliberately is committed to destroying its ethical commitment to God then resistance is appropriate.” Secondly, once the decision is made to resist, we should consider and follow at least three degrees of resistance: protest, flight (if possible), and only finally defensive force. This applies to individuals, but with corporate groups, we note that flight is less of an option. Thus, protest and then physical resistance are the procession. In such a corporate scenario, Rutherford argued that resistance is best done with the representation and authority of a lesser magistrate.
But anyone considering civil disobedience must count the potential costs and choose battles wisely. Lions and flames awaited those early Christians. Tyndale was burned at the stake. Bunyan languished in prison. Yet each preserved greater liberty for future generations by their sacrifices. What battles are worth fighting in this way? Some are not. For example, the early Christians went to lions for refusing to call Caesar divine. They would not blaspheme. Yet they would, following Paul’s and Christ’s teaching, pay taxes when imposed. Although civil taxation runs counter to God’s Law, this was not a battle worth fighting in this way.
Perhaps just as important as the decision, methods, and choices of such battles is that once we’ve got the formalities of theory out of the way, will Christians be Jonathan enough to engage and fight that uphill battle? Schaeffer had an important thought in this respect in his Manifesto. As he was writing in 1981, conservative Christians were riding the wave of the moral majority and the first dawn of the Reagan administration. Everything seemed bright. Schaeffer called it an “open window.” If Christians did not seize this opportunity, he noted, what should we expect of them when that window closes? As he put it, “Now if we have not run very well in the past with the footmen when it has been so very easy, I wonder what is going to happen to us if we have to run with the horsemen?” Schaeffer was thinking mainly in temporal terms, but his thought applies even now in respect to areas of life. Too many contemporary Christians do not even want to consider speaking in this way. They do not even want to speak of exercising the legal freedoms they should exercise now, let alone civil disobedience which may invite real persecution. Christian leaders refuse to advance the ideas, even when they should be on the leading edge. If Christians will not take initiative now in areas where it is perfectly legal, but means only a mild lifestyle adjustment, what makes us think they will organize to withstand greater tyrannies, make greater sacrifices, in more difficult environments?
One answer to this, which perhaps Schaeffer did not sufficiently stress (people do get nervous when there is an Iron Curtain a few miles away from their ministry), is the aspect that the battle is the Lord’s. This is why Jonathan’s motivation was so much more important than Jonathan’s initiative in itself. There is no limitation on the Lord to save either by many or by few. We are called to go and to fight, and therefore we must have initiative and courage. These are necessary conditions. We must climb on with the knowledge that success only comes by the Lord’s might. But since this is the case, great political moments can occur because of mere individual efforts, or the efforts of small groups. We are therefore not only to be self-starters and courageous in the face of the odds, but to be so in faith. Faith has an object, and faith has a product. The object is Jesus Christ. “From him and through him and to him are all things” (Rom. 11:36). The product is active obedience: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). This means that from God’s gift of faith, we should expect faithful works, faithful feats against the odds, inspirational victories by representative minorities. This is in the Lord’s hands and according to His will. It applies to all works of faith, including the legal ones we can do now, as well as the raising up of appropriate lesser magistrates and civil disobedience if and when the time comes. We act, but we act in faith and according to faith in Him. Any results will be up to Him, and we trust in Him to bring His promises to pass.
This will most likely start small, among small representative groups, as I said. But as victories mount—whether in peace or in disobedience—more Christians will be encouraged to join. Just as Jonathan’s victory led to a huge movement, so can small victories today embolden weaker Christians to come out of their caves to fight, and even those who have joined with the enemy will see the error of their ways and rejoin the right side of the fight. This can come in the legal areas now, as the homeschooling movement is driving more and more Christians to see the truth of the godlessness and deadly compromise of government schooling. It can happen in other areas where Christians take faithful leadership, taking up freely and voluntarily where leaders and governors have failed. It can take place in areas in which Christians remain faithful even against civil law.
And I am in agreement with Rutherford and Knox among others: in some instances, civil disobedience is not only a right but a duty. Schaeffer was brave and prescient to take note of this when he did, but his contribution was only introductory. Much more work has been done by the Christian Reconstructionists, specifically in the books The Theology of Christian Resistance and Tactics of Christian Resistance, as well as the 10-volume Biblical Blueprints Series, and others.
2. More guns, less crime
One area in which American Christians thankfully need not engage in civil disobedience is in the ownership and bearing of arms. We considered gun control in the last sermon. Here we see how the possession of arms is a bulwark against crime and tyranny in society. The first glimmers of Jonathan’s sword sent shockwaves of fear throughout the Philistine camp. The thought of the Israelites being an armed populace put a mighty assembly of chariots and horsemen to desperate confused flight.
The effect of widespread legal gun ownership is the same today. Well do pro-gun forces often repeat the mantra, “More guns, less crime.” It is a simply understood fact that criminals prefer unarmed victims, and tyrants prefer unarmed citizenries. Both groups wish to exploit, plunder, steal, rape, and control their subjects, and they do not want subjects who can fight back. Arms level this out, and they can do so in a very powerful psychological way. Even if every single home is not armed, the mere possibility that any given home may be armed leads to reductions in crime. The number of criminals who are willing to gamble whether or not they will be shot drastically decreases the number of attempted break-ins, etc. The potential payoff is simply not worth potential mortal wounding. Hoping for gold and finding lead instead is not a good trade in itself, let alone when the lead is in your chest.
Despite the feverish attempt by leftist forces to leverage the emotional fallout from mass shootings and school shootings in this country, two important facts stand out. First, all of those shootings have taken place in government-designated “gun free” zones. The attacks were thus certainly more deadly than they needed to be for the simple fact that the law-abiding victims could not carry arms to defend themselves or others. Had guns not been illegal in these places, there could very likely have been an armed person to stop the shootings before they escalated. In fact, we may go so far as to question whether some of these attacks would even have happened at all had the perpetrators not been assured in advance that people in these zones would in fact be unarmed helpless victims.
Second, even the current Justice Department run by the strongly anti-gun Eric Holder just released a study that confirms the “more guns, less crime” claim. The data reveal this to be true for both gun-related homicide and non-fatal gun violence. Over the period 1993–2011, firearm-related homicides dropped a whopping 39 percent, while nonfatal firearm crimes dived 69 percent. Yet throughout this period, gun ownership appears to have risen just as dramatically. A Justice Department study in 1997 estimated 44 million gun owners in America. A Harvard study in 2004 concluded 57 million—an increase of 30 percent in just seven years. More recently, the FBI has consistently reported record breaking numbers of background checks for firearms purchases. This has continued to increase for the past two years. Putting the facts together we arrive, once again, at “More guns, less crime.”
But in this regard, we have to acknowledge that the ideal of God’s Kingdom is, startlingly, disarmament. The ultimate goal is that “out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isa. 2:3–4). Seeing that we have already come to that Zion (Heb. 12:22–24), and that Christ shall not return here until all His enemies are destroyed (1 Cor. 15:24–26; Heb. 10:13), we must accept that the beating of swords into plowshares will take place at some point in history. But this is obviously not yet, for there are many enemies of Christ still roaming the earth. Crime and tyranny continue. Isaiah makes clear that disarmament must follow a worldwide change of mentality to refusing to learn and to engage in war (and thus, we assume, crime as well). Until Christ advances His kingdom in such a way that enough hearts are changed, enough of society is under the dominion of the godly, and the protection of life does not require such force as arms, the widespread distribution and prevalence of arms is the safest way to protect innocent life in society and to both curtail and punish evil. In short, we carry guns so that one day we don’t have to carry guns.
With Jonathan, you have a guy who brought about genuine social change through courageous faith and courageous obedience. His singular act of leadership created a grassroots movement. He inspired others to such courage as well. With Saul, you observe someone who begins with his sense of self-importance and title. He trusts in the devices and measures of men and quickly grows dependent upon bureaucracy. There is no grace or faithful action in this system. We are called today to be faithful like Jonathan. We have many one-handed fights ahead of us, but we will proceed one small acre at a time against the Philistines among us. We may have to fight uphill and into the very teeth of death, but we will go faithfully. Even if the establishment in our midst is incompetent, cumbersome, jealous, and does not like us or what we do, we will do it anyway. For God has given us liberty and responsibility, and we must obey God rather than men.
 Francis A. Schaeffer, “A Christian Manifesto,” in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, Volume 5: A Christian View of the West (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), 470.
 Schaeffer, 472, 474.
 Schaeffer, 475.
 Schaeffer, 466.
 Michael Planty and Jennifer L. Truman, “Firearm Violence, 1993–2011,” Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, May 2013; http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/fv9311.pdf (accessed June 5, 2013).