Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dangerous Faith: “By Many or By Few”

One day Jonathan son of Saul said to the young man bearing his armor, "Come, let's go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side." But he did not tell his father… No one was aware that Jonathan had left. On each side of the pass that Jonathan intended to cross to reach the Philistine outpost was a cliff… Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, "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." "Do all that you have in mind," his armor-bearer said. "Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul." Jonathan said, "Come, then; we will cross over toward the men and let them see us. If they say to us, 'Wait there until we come to you,' we will stay where we are and not go up to them. 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."

So both of them showed themselves to the Philistine outpost. "Look!" said the Philistines. "The Hebrews are crawling out of the holes they were hiding in." The men of the outpost shouted to Jonathan and his armor-bearer, "Come up to us and we'll teach you a lesson." So Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, "Climb up after me; the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel." Jonathan climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him. In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre.

Then panic struck the whole army—those in the camp and field, and those in the outposts and raiding parties—and the ground shook. It was a panic sent by God…. So the LORD rescued Israel that day, and the battle moved on beyond Beth Aven.
1 Samuel 14

What caused Jonathan do such a brash thing?

In case you missed it, Jonathan decided that it would be a good idea to attack this Philistine outpost with just himself and his armor bearer. Not only that but the outpost was on top of a pass, so he and his armor bearer would have to fight uphill severely out numbered. AND this pass was guarded by cliffs on both sides, meaning that their options for retreat were pretty limited. So, was Jonathan just stupid and foolhardy?

You might be thinking yes right now, but let me point you to a few passages of Scripture that I think Jonathan may have been familiar with. “You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you. Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.” (Leviticus 26:7-8) “The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.” (Deuteronomy 28:7)

Here’s the key. Jonathan knew God’s character and His promises. He knew what God wanted him to do, because he knew God. Jonathan knew that it was God’s will for Israel to defeat her enemies and fully possess the Promised Land. And Jonathan knew that God had promised them these victories. This is why Jonathan was able to act courageously and yes even dangerously. He didn’t need to sit around waiting for divine inspiration. He didn’t need a billboard from heaven. He knew what God’s will was; he just needed to act on it.

But there’s more to it than this. Not only did Jonathan know God’s character and His promises, he also knew that the battle belonged to the Lord. This could be seen all throughout Israel’s history—Gideon’s defeat of the Midianites with only 300 men and Joshua’s defeat of Jericho to name just a few. Jonathan knew that it didn’t matter how many soldiers Israel had or how skilled they were. Victory was dependent on God’s sovereignty and power not on their military strength. This is what led him to the conviction that God could save “by few or by many.”

Jonathan believed that if he stepped out in faith and courage acting in line with God’s will and His promises that he could trust God to bless what he was doing. And God was so pleased by Jonathan and his armor bearer’s actions that He joins in the fight with them. God sends an earthquake that throws the entire Philistine army into confusion. They start fighting each other and retreating. All of Israel was given a great victory that day because of Jonathan’s faith. Literally hours before, Israel’s army was down to 600 men because most of them had deserted and were hiding among the rocks. The Philistine’s had already set up an outpost in the area and were calling the Hebrews dogs for hiding in holes. Then, just like that, two men’s act of courageous faith turned the whole thing around. 

It is my hope that you and I would act with the same courageous faith that Jonathan had. But we can only do this if we know God and His promises like Jonathan. Do you know God well enough and do you trust Him enough to step out on faith like Jonathan did? If so, then how do you need to bring God’s character and His promises to bear on your own life? What strongholds do you need to charge with courage and faith in the Lord?

Don’t be brash, and don’t be stupid. But there are some things that we know God wants us to do. We know that God wants us to feed the starving and rescue the oppressed and defend the downtrodden. We can charge after these things wholeheartedly knowing that God will bless our efforts. But I’m sure that there is more as well. I’m sure that there are things that are specific to your life. What is it that is burning in your heart right now? I urge to draw your sword and step out on faith. The Lord will bless you for it.

For further reading this week…
  • Joshua 6: Check out how God helped Joshua defeat Jericho.
  • Judges 6-7: Gideon's men were outnumbered 450 to 1!
  • I Samuel 17: David & Goliath. A classic.

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