1 Samuel 14:24-46
Sermon preached on February 15, 2009 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.
Quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
In 1912 the Titanic sank after it hit an iceberg. It was doomed because it was going too fast. By the time they saw the iceberg they couldn't turn in time to avoid it. The ship's rudder wasn't big enough to turn such a massive ship that quickly. They almost made it—it was just the front side that hit the iceberg. But by so doing a gash on the side opened and flooded five of the water-tight compartments. If only four of the water-tight compartments had been breached, the Titanic would have been able to stay afloat. But with five compartments flooded, it was certain that she was going to go to the bottom of the ocean.
Some investigators have said that if First Officer William M. Murdoch had not turned the ship, but reversed the engines and hit the iceberg head on—that the Titanic would have been severely damaged but would not have sank. They suggest that with a frontal collision only three or four of the watertight compartments would have been breached and the ship would have remained afloat and most everyone would have lived.
I'm sure if First Officer Murdoch knew that he would not have turned the ship but would have hit the iceberg head on. But if he had done that he would have got in a whole lot of trouble. I can imagine how hard the captain and the accident investigation board would have come down on him. They would be incredulous asking,
"You didn't even try to turn the ship to avoid the iceberg."
By trying to avoid the iceberg, Murdoch was doing what everyone in his position would have done. Yet, it doomed the Titanic. Once the iceberg was sighted, the only way to save the ship was to ram straight into it. If Murdoch had done that—he would have been a hero—but he would have been punished for it—his career would have been over and his reputation tarnished. Murdoch's name would have gone down in history and it would have been synonymous with the utmost foolishness.
Sometimes you can do the right thing and rather than getting treated like a hero—you'll end up in the exact opposite situation—you'll be the scapegoat.
Jonathan knew all about that. Jonathan was the one that was instrumental in giving Israel this victory over the Philistines. He started it all. When all the other Israelites were afraid and inactive, he suggested to his armor-bearer for them to go up against the Philistines and see if the Lord would act on their behalf. He said, (1 Samuel 14:6)
"Come, let's go over to the outpost
of those uncircumcised fellows.
Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf.
Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving,
whether by many or by few."
He was the one who acted first. He bravely went up to the Philistine outpost and he and his armor-bearer fought and killed 20 Philistines before any of the other Israelites joined in. His actions were heroic. He was focused on doing the Lord's work and was going to do it even if none of the other soldiers were going to. He acted even though he knew it might cost him his life.
Not only that, but he also did it with all his might. He started killing Philistines and he didn't stop. He did it until he was exhausted with hunger. Even then he didn't go back to the camp for food. Rather in the midst of the fighting he saw some honey and ate some of it. When he did so his eyes brightened and his strength came back to him.
What did Jonathan get for all his bravery, for all his zeal, for all his skill in killing Philistines? His father demanded that he be put to death because he ate some honey.
Saul had bound the army under an oath that if anyone ate before he avenged himself on his enemies, they would be cursed. Jonathan didn't know about his father's curse and when he grew faint he ate some honey he found on the battlefield. When King Saul found out that Jonathan had eaten the honey, he said to him, (1 Samuel 14:44)
"May God deal with me,
be it ever so severely,
if you do not die, Jonathan."
Wow. For awhile that day Jonathan thought he was going to die. It seemed certain. It was only the intervention of the soldiers that prevented it.
Jonathan should have been rewarded. He should have been given a medal—Israel's highest award. Saul should have held a parade in Jonathan's honor. Instead, Saul was angry with Jonathan and was determined to kill him. What a tragic situation.
Thus the lesson we learn from our text is that
serving the Lord can be frustrating, discouraging, disappointing and dangerous.
It sometimes happens that someone is zealous about serving the Lord a does the right thing—suddenly their world comes crashing down around them. Serving the Lord does not always bring immediate reward, indeed, sometimes the very opposite happens—you get threatened or punished for it.
You who are Christians need to be prepared for this.
In 1 Peter the apostle warned us that Christians will often suffer for doing good. In 1 Peter 4:12 he wrote,
do not be surprised
at the painful trial you are suffering,
as though something strange
were happening to you."
No, suffering for doing good is normal. So if you suffer for doing what is good, don't bemoan the situation. In verses 16-17 he continued,
"if you suffer as a Christian,
do not be ashamed,
but praise God that you bear that name.
For it is time for judgment
to begin with the family of God;"
If you suffer for doing what is good recognize that you're following in the footsteps of Jesus. Jesus did nothing but good—yet how He suffered because of it! As Peter wrote in 1 Peter 4:1,
since Christ suffered in his body,
arm yourselves also
with the same attitude,"
Peter then ended that chapter with the words, (1 Peter 4:19)
"So then, those who suffer
according to God's will
should commit themselves
to their faithful Creator and continue to do good."
But there's a further problem with Jonathan's story. It's very surprising and puzzling that
God seems to have told on Jonathan.
The men who saw Jonathan eat the honey didn't go and report it to King Saul. They didn't tell on Jonathan. They knew that he was a hero. Verse 39 is noteworthy. When Saul decided to cast lots to see who sinned, we read,
"But not one of the men said a word."
The men didn't tell on Jonathan, but God did. From verse 36 we learn that Saul wanted to continue pursuing the Philistines. But the priest suggested that they inquire of the Lord. Saul asked God, but God did not answer him that day. Saul then got the idea that someone had sinned. They cast lots and Jonathan was taken.
The obvious question is: What was the Lord doing in all this? God was in absolute control. He knew that when Jonathan ate the honey he didn't know about his father's command. He knew that Jonathan had done it in innocence.
Doing something in innocence is a great mitigating factor. You'll remember when Abraham told Abimelech, king of Gerar that Sarah was his sister, Abimelech took her. We read, (Genesis 20:3-6)
"But God came to Abimelech
in a dream one night and said to him,
'You are as good as dead
because of the woman you have taken;
she is a married woman.'
Now Abimelech had not gone near her,
so he said, 'Lord,
will you destroy an innocent nation?
Did he not say to me,
'She is my sister,' and didn't she also say,
'He is my brother'?
I have done this
with a clear conscience and clean hands.'
Then God said to him in the dream,
'Yes, I know you did this
with a clear conscience,
and so I have kept you
from sinning against me.'"
God knew that Jonathan had eaten the honey with a clear conscience as well. God could have hidden it from Saul. But by not answering their question about pursuing the Philistines—God set Jonathan up. It was like God told on him.
Wow. Can you imagine how Jonathan must have felt? He did nothing but good, zealously doing his duty—and it was like God was conspiring against him to put him to death.
And it's not just here—but consider the larger context of Jonathan's life as well. From what we've see of Jonathan so far it looks like he'd make a great king. He's faithful to the Lord. He's zealous for the Lord. He trusts in the Lord—yet when his father sins—the kingdom is taken away from Saul and is promised, not to Jonathan—but to David. Yet Jonathan even accepts that. He's not jealous of David. He doesn't hate David because of that—instead he gives David his wholehearted support. Remember what he said to encourage David and help him find strength in the Lord when Saul was trying to kill David. He said, (1 Samuel 23:17)
"Don't be afraid.
My father Saul will not lay a hand on you.
You will be king over Israel,
and I will be second to you.
Even my father Saul knows this."
Yet that was not to be. Jonathan died at his father's side on Mount Gilboa fighting the Philistines.
Jonathan had a tragic life. He was faithful to the Lord, loyal courageous and yet because of his father's sin he didn't become king. He was not destined for that. God had other plans for him. Jonathan wasn't even destined to be at David's right hand when David became king. He was destined to die at the hand of the Philistines.
The two great lessons we should learn from this.
your trust in God needs to so great that not only do you not lose faith, but you embrace the plan that God has for you.
You may face a time where it will seem that everything is against you and it will appear that even God has abandoned you. The only thing that you will have are the promises of God and others will tell you that they aren't for you. Many of God's ways are mysterious and that you need to trust Him and continue to serve Him even when His hand seems to turn against you.
As a Christian you need to be absolutely assured that Jesus is your Shepherd and that He will never leave you nor forsake you. You need to be absolutely convinced that He is leading you to glory.
In such a situation you need to have faith like Job expressed in Job 13:15. He said of God,
Though he slay me,
yet will I hope in him;
In such a situation you need to have the attitude that Jesus had in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed, (Luke 22:42)
"Father, if you are willing,
take this cup from me;
yet not my will,
but yours be done."
We're not sure how much faith Jonathan had when he was faced with death here. It could be that his faith was great. When he senses that his father is going to order him to be killed, he doesn't rebel. He doesn't take up a sword to defend himself. He merely asks,
"Must I die?"
Jonathan would willing submit to death. He should have been treated as a hero—but he was willing to be treated as a condemned man.
So if you ever find yourself in a situation like that, don't lose faith. Trust in God. Embrace His providence for you.
He has different plans for many of us. When Peter was told by Jesus that he was going to die by crucifixion, he asked Jesus about John. Jesus replied, (John 21:22)
"If I want him to remain alive until I return,
what is that to you?
You must follow me."
Jonathan was called to be faithful in the path that God called him. Dale Davis writes of Jonathan's life, (1 Samuel, p. 148)
"Maybe a tragic life isn't tragic if it's lived in fidelity to what Christ asks of us in the circumstances he gives for us."
Jonathan continued to serve God and be faithful even through the difficult path that God gave him.
He did so much better than his father Saul.
Saul had been rebuked by Samuel. After that he basically stopped trusting in the Lord. Consider his oath.
There's no mention of God and His will. Saul was focused on himself. He wanted to avenge himself on his enemies. He said, (verse 24)
"Cursed be any man
who eats food before evening comes,
before I have avenged myself
on my enemies!"
There's no trust in God there. He's not encouraging his men in a positive way, urging them to fight for the Lord and His honor. No. It's all about himself. John Woodhouse writes, p. 249,
"The man who did not obey God in chapter 13 now made no reference to God, expressed no confidence in God, and was obsessed with avenging himself on his enemies and coercing his people into supporting him."
What a contrast to Jonathan's words in verse 6,
"Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf.
Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving,
whether by many or by few."
There's a famous Civil War quote from Abraham Lincoln that was uttered when a minister meeting the President said that he, 'hoped the Lord is on our side.' The President replied,
"I don't agree with you. I am not at all concerned about that, for we know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord's side."
(Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years and the War Years, p. 570)
Saul didn't just confuse his cause and the Lord's cause—his cause replaced the Lord's cause. With Saul, it was no longer about the Lord's victory, or the Lord saving Israel—it was all about him, his honor and his pride.
Saul didn't embrace the Lord's plan for him. He didn't trust the Lord. He seems to have made an idol of himself.
Christians, whatever plan God has for you—embrace it. Even if you're like Saul, and have sinned greatly against the Lord and know that things aren't going to be good because of it—embrace that plan. Embrace it in righteousness, trusting in God, seeking His glory. That's how strong your faith in God should be.
The second application from this is that your faith in God needs to be so great that
such circumstances do not discourage you and stop you from being courageous for the Lord in the future.
Jonathan was a hero. Yet he almost lost his life. He was only saved by the skin of his teeth. He could have said,
"I did something good for the Lord. I started this great victory. Yet I got in trouble for it. I'm not going to undertake such a risk in the future."
Perhaps Jonathan had that attitude. We don't know.
Yet it's perhaps significant that when Goliath challenged the army of Israel that no one, not even Jonathan, responded. Now perhaps I'm being unfair to Jonathan. We don't even know if he was there. Perhaps Saul had sent him home after the fiasco of chapter 14. We don't know.
But it could be that Jonathan was burned by his father's actions here and that after this he was reluctant to take the initiative against the Philistines.
Christians, don't let that happen to you. Yes, if you serve the Lord, if you do good things for Him, if you're heroic in the faith—you will get burned. You'll suffer for it. But don't let that discourage you. Always remember the apostle Paul's words in Galatians 6:9
"Let us not become weary in doing good,
for at the proper time
we will reap a harvest
if we do not give up."
Christians, when you're doing the Lord's will people will put stumbling blocks in your way. They will sometimes stop you from serving the Lord as effectively as you could. Saul did that to his soldiers.
But press on. Continue to do what is right. Stand up to what is wrong. Don't lose heart.
Lastly, if you're not a Christian, the lesson for you is that
trust in oneself leads to ruin.
Saul stopped trusting in God and started trusting in himself. He became a fool. His oath demanding that his men not eat was foolish.
Israel's victory over the Philistines was much less that it could have been. Saul ordered the men not to eat until he had avenged himself on his enemies. That did a lot more harm than good. After a certain amount of fighting the men became famished. Verse 24 tells us that because of Saul's oath,
"the men of Israel
were in distress that day,"
In verse 28 one of the soldiers told Jonathan about the oath and he said,
"That is why the men are faint."
The old adage attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte,
"An army marches on its stomach,"
could be rephrased,
"An army fights on its stomach."
Saul deprived them of needed nourishment. His army became weak and fatigued and their victory over the Philistines was less than it could have been.
His vow to kill whoever was taken by lot was foolish. He was so confident that it was not him or Jonathan. He becomes such a sorry figure after that. No one else wants Jonathan put to death—but Saul, because of his boastful vow—has to stick to it or he'll look very bad. Either way he looks very bad.
Although God used Saul to win some victories for Israel, after this, without his trust in the Lord, it's a downward spiral. He died with God, without hope.
Don't let that happen to you. If you're not trusting in God—you're doomed. You need Christ. Go to Him and be saved.