February 18, 2009

Loyal to the Very End

2009 1505 page20 caponathan stands tall among people of Bible times.

The oldest son of Saul, educated as a prince, he first appears in Scripture as second in command of Israel’s armies. In Saul’s second year, the Philistines, angered by Jonathan’s attack on their outpost at Geba, gathered their army at Micmash (see 1 Sam. 13).
The Philistines showed great confidence. They had iron weapons, with 3,000 battle chariots, and held a hill overlooking a deep gorge. Israel held the opposite hill. But since the nation had no blacksmiths, only Saul and Jonathan owned genuine swords—while their demoralized troops probably carried clubs, ox-goads, and slings.
Into this unequal stand\off stepped crown prince Jonathan. He didn’t fret over Philistine superiority or the dwindling size of Saul’s army. “Come,” he said to his armor-bearer, “let’s go over to the Philistine outpost.” “Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few” (1 Sam. 14:1, 6).
What faith! He risked his life to save his nation, and trusted God to fight for him. And Jonathan’s armor-bearer shared his faith. “Go ahead,” he replied, “I am with you heart and soul” (verse 7).
Perilous Mission
They descended the rocky hillside and agreed on how they’d know God’s will. They would show themselves to the Philistines. If the enemy said, “Wait,” they’d wait; but if the enemy said, “Come up,” then they would know that God would give them the victory (verses 8-10).
2009 1505 page20“Look, the Hebrews are crawling out of the holes they were hiding in,” the Philistine guards shouted at their approach. “Come up to us and we’ll teach you a lesson.”
Jonathan rejoiced. “Climb up after me,” he cried to his armor-bearer as he lunged forward. “The Lord has given them into the hand of Israel” (see verses 11, 12).
The two warriors came up fighting, and within a half acre of ground they killed about 20 soldiers.
The bulk of the Philistine army knew that a battle was raging up front, but they couldn’t see the action from their vantage point. So they shifted about, confused . . . until the earthquake struck, and then they fled in panic.
For their part, Saul’s forces, camped on the opposite hill, felt the earthquake, heard the shouts, and saw the enemy fleeing. Giving chase, they soundly defeated the Philistines.
And why? Because two courageous youth allowed God’s Spirit to use them. “Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.”
Watching the Kingdom Slip Away
On another occasion, Samuel sent Saul to destroy the Amalekites. Take no captives, no spoils; destroy everything, the prophet said.
Why? Because the Amalekites had filled up their “cup of iniquity”; they’d gone so far into sin that not even God could save them. God wanted them destroyed so they wouldn’t drag Israel down.
But instead of destroying everything, Saul kept the finest sheep and cattle, and even preserved the king’s life for his victory parade.
The Bible doesn’t mention Jonathan in this story, but he must have been there. And he probably stood silent nearby as Samuel rebuked Saul for disobedience and pronounced the end of the Kish dynasty.
How did Jonathan feel when he realized that his father’s greed had ruined his chances for success? The Bible doesn’t say. But it never describes Jonathan as blaming his father for losing the crown. Instead Jonathan remained loyal to him.
It was about this time that Samuel sought out a shepherd boy in Bethlehem, anointing him as Israel’s future king. David was probably only about 17 at this time, and Jonathan must have been nearly 50—for Saul had already reigned 30 years.
Time for Silence
Jonathan knew nothing of Samuel’s trip to Bethlehem, or of the young man destined to take his place. But he remained loyal to God and to Saul.
Israel became involved in a standoff with the Philistines at Socoh in Judah. But instead of rushing into battle as before, the Philistines challenged Israel to a duel of champions (see 
1 Sam. 17:1-7).
The enemy champion Goliath stood nine feet tall, wore armor weighing 125 pounds, had an iron spearhead of about 15 pounds—the works!
“Choose a man,” Goliath thundered. “If he is able to . . . kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I . . . kill him, you will . . . serve us” (verses 8, 9).
What an opportunity for Jonathan! But Jonathan didn’t move. Where now was his trust in God to save “by many or by few”? Had Jonathan lost his nerve?
You see, God wanted to use Goliath to launch David’s career. This wasn’t Jonathan’s fight, and God’s Spirit impressed him, I believe, to stay out of it. Jonathan lived so close to God that he knew when to act, and when to leave it up to someone else.
God gave Goliath into David’s hands; and the young shepherd’s bravery, his dedication and godly trust, won him a place in Jonathan’s heart. David’s spirit-filled courage matched the spirit within the prince’s heart. Each man saw the Holy Spirit working in the life of the other. Though in age they ranked more like father and son, they became steadfast friends.
Time for Magnanimity
Saul’s apostasy led him to mental illness, and David played his harp to soothe the king. But when the women of Israel sang “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” (1 Sam. 18:7), the king became jealous of the young shepherd, and determined to kill him. In spite of Saul’s jealousy, however, he made David a general in his army.
2009 1505 page20Saul began to guess that God had chosen David to succeed him, and proceeded to badger him with a vengeance. Twice 
he tried to pin David to the wall with his spear. He sent David into the hottest battles, hoping to get him killed. But David survived each attempt on his life, becoming increasingly famous. Several times Jonathan saved David’s life, and in the effort, almost fell victim himself to his father’s murderous hands.
Realizing that David would be the next king, Jonathan could have joined Saul in his assassination attempts. But Jonathan didn’t consider David an enemy. The two loved and served God as spiritual brothers. Indeed, instead of fighting David, Jonathan made a covenant with him.

Jonathan knew that in contested situations, new kings often destroyed the families of the former king to prevent uprisings that might threaten their power. And he guessed that once David took the throne, he’d kill Saul’s family, lest disloyal elements use them to overthrow him.1 So when Jonathan promised to warn David of Saul’s murderous schemes, the prince asked David to preserve his family (1 Sam. 20:13-15). They made a covenant, a covenant that David honored throughout his life.
Saul spent years pursuing David.
“Don’t be afraid,” Jonathan told David one day, “my father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you” (1 Sam. 23:17).
How could he step aside so humbly? Only by God’s grace!
A lot happened during these years. Jonathan watched from the sidelines as Saul hunted David. He probably saw the butcher of the priests at the palace in Gibeah, and knew that it was Saul who’d ordered their families massacred, as well. Saul no doubt told Jonathan how David had spared the king’s life on two different occasions, rather than kill “the Lord’s anointed”—reports that must have assured Jonathan that David would keep their covenant.
To the Very End
This was the weakest period of Saul’s reign. Jonathan could have assassinated the king and taken the throne or given it to David. But he avoided these human measures. Evidently, he saw the nation’s leader in the same way David did, when David said: “The Lord forbid that I should . . . lift my hand against . . . the anointed of the Lord” (1 Sam. 24:6).
As the Philistines began again to plunder Israel, Saul abandoned his manhunt for David. Battle lines formed on Mt. Gilboa and Saul trembled, seeing the huge enemy army. Though surrounded by his own troops, he felt alone. He’d repelled his own family and his friends by his criminal actions and unfeeling abuse. No one could fail to see that God’s Spirit no longer was leading Israel. Their leader had forsaken God. Even the devil got in his licks as Saul sought encouragement from a witch at Endor, only to be “kicked in the stomach” with news of his coming demise.
Jonathan might have reasoned that God couldn’t bless Israel through a godless leader, so why risk his life? He had every human excuse to withdraw from this impossible battle—but he didn’t. His loyalty to God, country, and king led him to march at Saul’s side to the very end.
If God had commanded Jonathan to stay away, he’d have done it. But without such an order, Jonathan served his father loyally until death parted them both.
We might imagine that Jonathan’s loyalty went for nothing. Why did he die? The Bible doesn’t tell us.2 But the battle of Gilboa evidently offered the best time for Jonathan to die. God let him go to his rest, raising up David as Israel’s king.
Saul’s apostasy and its ultimate effect on Israel stands as a warning to all leaders who fail to take their relationship with God seriously. But Jonathan’s loyalty, in spite of his father’s madness, gives us a beautiful illustration of God’s desire for His people—to serve Him loyally to the very end. 
1Rebellions happened twice during David’s reign: In the first instance, Abner used Saul’s youngest son, Ish-Bosheth, in a grasp for power (2 Sam. 2–4). In the second instance, Absalom’s rebellion caused a serious breach of trust between Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, and David (perhaps caused by Ziba—see 2 Sam. 19:24-30), since Mephibosheth had seemed to fail the king in the king’s hour of need (see 2 Sam. 16:1-4).
2Isaiah 57:1, 2 offers a clue as to why good people sometimes die untimely.

Thurman C. Petty, Jr., writes from Burleson, Texas.