Sermon for Sunday, February 11th, 2024 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[1Sa 13:16-23 ESV] 16 And Saul and Jonathan his son and the people who were present with them stayed in Geba of Benjamin, but the Philistines encamped in Michmash. 17 And raiders came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies. One company turned toward Ophrah, to the land of Shual; 18 another company turned toward Beth-horon; and another company turned toward the border that looks down on the Valley of Zeboim toward the wilderness. 19 Now there was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, “Lest the Hebrews make themselves swords or spears.” 20 But every one of the Israelites went down to the Philistines to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, or his sickle, 21 and the charge was two-thirds of a shekel for the plowshares and for the mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening the axes and for setting the goads. 22 So on the day of the battle there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people with Saul and Jonathan, but Saul and Jonathan his son had them. 23 And the garrison of the Philistines went out to the pass of Michmash.
New Testament reading:
[Rom 8:31-39 ESV] 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
[Mat 19:23-26 ESV] 23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
[1Sa 14:1-23 ESV] 1 One day Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side.” But he did not tell his father. 2 Saul was staying in the outskirts of Gibeah in the pomegranate cave at Migron. The people who were with him were about six hundred men, 3 including Ahijah the son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, son of Phinehas, son of Eli, the priest of the LORD in Shiloh, wearing an ephod. And the people did not know that Jonathan had gone. 4 Within the passes, by which Jonathan sought to go over to the Philistine garrison, there was a rocky crag on the one side and a rocky crag on the other side. The name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh. 5 The one crag rose on the north in front of Michmash, and the other on the south in front of Geba. 6 Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “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 by few.” 7 And his armor-bearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.” 8 Then Jonathan said, “Behold, we will cross over to the men, and we will show ourselves to them. 9 If they say to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place, and we will not go up to them. 10 But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up, for the LORD has given them into our hand. And this shall be the sign to us.” 11 So both of them showed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines. And the Philistines said, “Look, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden themselves.” 12 And the men of the garrison hailed Jonathan and his armor-bearer and said, “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing.” And Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Come up after me, for the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel.” 13 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 And that first strike, which Jonathan and his armor-bearer made, killed about twenty men within as it were half a furrow’s length in an acre of land. 15 And there was a panic in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. The garrison and even the raiders trembled, the earth quaked, and it became a very great panic. 16 And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked, and behold, the multitude was dispersing here and there. 17 Then Saul said to the people who were with him, “Count and see who has gone from us.” And when they had counted, behold, Jonathan and his armor-bearer were not there. 18 So Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring the ark of God here.” For the ark of God went at that time with the people of Israel. 19 Now while Saul was talking to the priest, the tumult in the camp of the Philistines increased more and more. So Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand.” 20 Then Saul and all the people who were with him rallied and went into the battle. And behold, every Philistine’s sword was against his fellow, and there was very great confusion. 21 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. 22 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. 23 So the LORD saved Israel that day. And the battle passed beyond Beth-aven.
We have here a remarkable story of action, of friendship, and of battle, as the Lord wins the victory for the Israel.
When we left off, the Israelites were running and hiding from the Philistines. Hiding in holes in the ground and in caves and in cisterns, and running even across the Jordan river to get away from the large army of the Philistines that was approaching.
Now we have that army having split into three forces and raiding the land of Israel.
And consequently there is great fear among all Israel.
Saul, their king who was to fight battles for them isn’t fighting at present. And he even unwisely sent home most of the troops. All hope appears to be lost for Israel.
The situation is made worse by the great disparity between the weapons of the Philistines and the Israelites. It is metal versus wood and stone. The text doesn’t tell us, but somehow the Philistines had control over the land had prevented Israel from having any blacksmiths. If the Israelites wanted to sharpen a tool they had to travel to Philistia and pay for the sharpening.
Though the people are fearful and the King is not leading well, there is hope with Jonathan, the son of King Saul. HE is a man of action. HE goes to fight the Philistines. He did so in the last chapter when he attacked and defeated a Philistine garrison. Though Jonathan had the smaller army of just 1000 men while Saul had 2000 men a his side, yet it was Jonathan who led the attack.
Now, he will again lead an attack. And instead of 1000 men, it is just 2. Jonathan and his armor bearer vs. The Philistines.
The courage, the bravery, of one (Jonathan) with the encouragement and support of his armor-bearer single-handedly, or should we say double-handedly, turns the tide, changes the momentum, and encourages the rest of Israel to fight and win because it is clear that the Lord is on their side.
I. Jonathan’s Daring Attack (v. 1-14)
Jonathan leads a daring attack.
Jonathan gets this idea and says to his armor bearer:
“Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side.”
You might ask, the other side of what?
Well it is the other side of the valley. There is a great valley that separates the Israelites from the Philistines. And Jonathan has decided to go over to the other side for an attack.
And its not an easy attack either. There are two crags that they have to climb. One of them is called Bozez and the other Seneh. These mean “slippery” and “thorny.”
There is no “you take the high road and I’ll take the low road.” There is no easy path. It is either the slippery path or the thorny path. And that’s just to get to the Philistines and begin the fight. Jonathan will need the Lord on his side to pull this off.
He says to his armor bears, “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 by few.”
REPEAT: Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.
Q. How does Jonathan find such faith and courage? How can we distinguish this from being foolhardy? Why is it instead called “faith”?
A1. Well, for one, the enemies are not friends of God. The Philistines he calls “uncircumcised.” They are enemies not in Covenant with God. This must give Jonathan confidence.
A2. And then — and I think this is the primary reason Jonathan has such faith — is that HE KNOWS WHAT THE LORD HAS DONE BEFORE.
He knows that the Lord can save Israel “by many or by few.”
The Lord used MANY Israelites in the defeat of the Ammonites.
But the Lord doesn’t NEED to have so many.
With just 300 soldiers the Lord led Gideon to victory over the Midianites.
And God can win the victory for them, even without any troops at all. God defeated the chariots of the Egyptians with the waters of the Red Sea, without the Israelites even swinging a sword or throwing a spear.
So there is great faith with Jonathan. He doesn’t KNOW that God will bless his efforts, but he does know that something must be done and the ONLY HOPE is in the Lord. If they run, if they don’t fight, the Philistine raids will surely decimate Israel.
So he says in effect “Let’s try this.” “It may be that the LORD will work for us.” It may be, and that is our only hope. And, if we have the Lord on our side, then, he wisely points out, “nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.”
Jonathan’s faith reminds me of that story of Jesus and the centurion in Matthew. The centurion said to Jesus “Just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” Jonathan, like this centurion, has BOLD FAITH. Jesus says to the centurion, “Truly, I tel you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.” That is the bold faith that Jonathan has. Faith not in himself, but faith in the power of the almighty God. He knows that God is all-powerful. No one can stand in his way.
And perhaps Jonathan knew the words of Joshua 23:10 – “One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the LORD your God who fights for you.”
And it is not just 1 man, it is 2. Jonathan has his armor-bearer with him. And if Jonathan has faith, so does the armor-bearer.
He encourages and supports Jonathan when he says: “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.”
That is a best friend. That is a right-hand man. Giving encouragement.
Application: The Encouragement of Friends is of Great Value
This teaches us the value of the encouragement of friends. Godly encouragement.
So often in life we can find ourselves unsure about something. Is my work any good? Am I making the right decision. We’re stuck in a pickle, a conundrum. But what does the good friend do? He encourages. He says “I am with you heart and soul.”
We should do the same. If your friend, your family member, your coworker is going in a good direction, then support them.
Especially with family and close friends. Say “I am with you heart and soul.” “I back your plan.” “I back your plan to go back to college seek to improve your career.” “I back your plan to write a book.” Or “I back your plan to take some time off and recover from the stresses of life.”
What a great thing to have a friend like that. And what a great calling for us to be friends like that.
I found online a list of the all-time greats sidekicks. And Saul’s armor-bearer wasn’t on the list! You know who was? I thought he’d be first. But he was second – poor Robin as in Batman and Robin. Always coming up second place! Even in a list of best sidekicks. Number 1 all time is Ed McMahon as Johnny Carson’s sidekick.
So with his amor-bearing’s backing Saul puts into effect his plan.
Here is the plan:
Then Jonathan said, “Behold, we will cross over to the men, and we will show ourselves to them. 9 If they say to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place, and we will not go up to them. 10 But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up, for the LORD has given them into our hand. And this shall be the sign to us.”
And what happened?:
11 So both of them showed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines. And the Philistines said, “Look, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden themselves.” 12 And the men of the garrison hailed Jonathan and his armor-bearer and said, “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing.” And Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Come up after me, for the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel.” 13 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 And that first strike, which Jonathan and his armor-bearer made, killed about twenty men within as it were half a furrow’s length in an acre of land.
I must say I get a kick out of the taunt of the Philistines. “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing.” It’s like saying “I’ll show you a thing or two.” Yeah, those things are fists. Or swords. And its not like their saying “Let us show you our sword collection.”
Now these Philistines have no concern over the two Israelites coming at them. It’s just two men, right? Well, two men + God. And that’s more force than anyone can handle.
So twenty Philistines are struck down by Jonathan and his armor-bearer, fulfilling the hope of Jonathan that God would “save, whether by many or by few.”
And God has chosen FIRST to do it by “few.” He then works WITHOUT any at all in sending an Earthquake to terrify the Philistines, and then by “many” when the whole of the Hebrews army now see the tide turn and goes on the attack.
There were even “insiders.” Men with divided loyalties who were within the camp of the Philistines who broke rank and joined the cause of Israel fighting agains the Philistines. Hence when Saul and his men reached the Philistines, he found them fighting themselves. (v. 20) All chaos abounded among the Philistines.
II. Saul’s Continued Blunders (v. 15-19)
While Jonathan turns the tide of Battle, Saul continues to blunder. This is a great term in chess. There are mistakes and then there are blunder, BIG mistakes. And that seems to be Saul’s forte. Blunders.
Saul blunders when his impatience again overtakes him. First he calls the priest to “Bring the ark of God here.” But while Saul was still talking to the priest, the tumult in the camp of the Philistines grew and so Saul said to the priest “Withdraw your hand.” Then Saul and all the people who were with him rallied and went into the battle.
It is not entirely clear to me what “withdraw your hand” means. I think, as the commentator Jamieson Brown says, the priest was praying with hands raised. This was how they prayed. With hands up, and spock-like fingers splayed open. Leonard Nimoy, by the way, got this from his Jewish heritage. The Vulcan salute. It is a symbol of the Hebrew shin pointing to El Shaddai, the almighty God. So the priest is praying to the Almighty God, and Saul doesn’t let him finish. “That’s enough” he says. “Move along.”
Saul isn’t any further punished this time, but his actions continue to display his status as an unrepentant sinner.
We see a remarkable contrast between Saul and his son Jonathan. Saul dishonored God with fearful disobedience. But Jonathan the warrior had fearless faith. Saul is a coward (he hid in the baggage, did not go out for battle, did not trust the lord and wait patiently.) But Jonathan is brave, knowing that there is nothing to fear if the Lord is on your side because “nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few” Jonathan’s faith is like that “faith not seen in all Israel.” A bold faith.
III. God’s Mighty Victory (v. 20-23)
But, who gets the credit for the victory? Who does the author of this text credit? It is not Jonathan, but God. And Jonathan would agree with that assessment.
From a human standpoint, Israel’s situation was hopeless. But this just goes to show the Lord’s strength all the more. The battlefield attack of 1 man or of 2 was not going to cut it against a whole army. But the Lord brought victory. There are two miracles here. First, that Jonathan and his armor-bearer can defeat 20 men. And then, the timing of the Earthquake. This compounded effect brings chaos in the ranks of the Philistines and victory to Israel.
Nothing can hinder the Lord. That is the truth we are to find comfort in. The truth that we are to look to in times of need. Nothing can hinder the Lord.
Truth: Nothing Can Hinder the Lord
In Job 42:2, Job says to God “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”
And in Luke 1:37 the angel says to Mary that she (a virgin) will give birth and her cousin (an old woman) will give birth also. And the angel says “For nothing will be impossible with God.”
That is the general truth. God is omnipotent, all-powerful.
And there is a more specific truth here as well. That BECAUSE God is all-powerful, He SAVES. He can save even the worst sinner. And He can do this by whatever means He chooses.
Some come to saving faith through a single sermon preached.
Some sit in the pews for many years and hear many sermons and read many books before the Word of God turns their hearts.
Some are persuaded to believe in Jesus Christ through conversation.
Some, like Paul, are persuaded more instantaneously through miraculous means.
God saves His people through the means he chooses.
And he can save by Many of by Few.
Nowhere is this point more apropos than with the salvation known through Jesus Christ. A SINGLE MAN. The God-Man Jesus Christ. Not an army. Not a band of soldiers. Not even with the assistance of an armor-bearer. Jesus Christ, and He alone, saves us from our sins. ONE man. Through Him we are saved and to Him we give praise. Let us pray.