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Foundation Truth, Number 15 (Autumn 2006) | Timeless Truths Publications

Jonathan, Son of Saul

The kingdom of Israel was in a pitiful condition because they had sinned repeatedly against God. The Philistines oppressed them to the extent that they were not even able to have swords and spears. “Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel: for the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears: But all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share, and his coulter, and his ax, and his mattock. Yet they had a file for the mattocks, and for the coulters, and for the forks, and for the axes, and to sharpen the goads.”* (1 Samuel 13:19-21) Any nation about that chose to oppress and despise them could do so. “Then Nahash the Ammonite came up, and encamped against Jabeshgilead: and all the men of Jabesh said unto Nahash, Make a covenant with us, and we will serve thee. And Nahash the Ammonite answered them, On this condition will I make a covenant with you, that I may thrust out all your right eyes, and lay it for a reproach upon all Israel. And the elders of Jabesh said unto him, Give us seven days’ respite, that we may send messengers unto all the coasts of Israel: and then, if there be no man to save us, we will come out to thee.”* (1 Samuel 11:1-3) Look at the tame submission of the men of Jabesh. This is the result of sin. The people wept. They had no deliverance. They had no confidence from God. They were powerless before their enemies.

In those days, King Saul was little in his own eyes and leaned greatly on the Lord. He was not discouraged by the weak state of the people. He was in sweet unity with Samuel and the prophets. “After Saul and after Samuel.”* (1 Samuel 11:7) They were together in spirit. Would that he had stayed in that happy situation! Then would he have prospered. He would have been blessed as God wanted to bless him.

The result of this humble mind and sweet unity? God blessed Israel with a mighty victory over the Ammonites, and together Saul, Samuel, and Israel renewed the kingdom. The elements of the kingdom were in proper proportion before God, and it was a happy day, a day of victory and renewal. There was a return from the idolatrous backsliding of the past. Samuel had told the people the manner of the kingdom and written it in a book. There was a way for that sweet unity and blessing to continue and be a permanent possession.

Two years of Saul’s reign passed. During those two years, there was a slow deterioration of Saul’s humility. He began to think of himself more highly than he ought to think. This put him out of alignment with God, then with all others who were led of God, such as Samuel and Jonathan, Saul’s own son. If you had lived in Saul’s court at the time, you would have been hard put to settle upon a particular incident or speech that would have exposed the change in the man. The erosion was undermining his walk with God, but much of that erosion was not visible yet.

In 1 Samuel 13 we read of Jonathan, Saul’s oldest son. He appears on the scene full grown, a man in charge of a thousand soldiers. A zealous man, full of confidence in God, and aggressive for the Lord. He attacks Israel’s greatest oppressors. He is not afraid to do so, for he knows Israel’s God. He had taken Samuel’s words to heart, “Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart; for consider how great things he hath done for you.”* (1 Samuel 12:24) So he attacks the Philistines, and this brings about a crisis.

At this point, it appeared that Saul and Jonathan were in unity. Saul called the people together. The people had little confidence in God; they had been living too loosely for that. They followed Saul, but they followed him trembling. They were more inclined to hide from the trial than to close with the enemy. They needed a victory.

Now was the time for the leadership to look to God. God had what they needed. So Saul waited for Samuel, for Samuel had promised to be there in seven days. And it was then that God interfered, for He thinks not as man thinks. He cannot be put into a box; we cannot pin Him down. He knows what He is doing, and He knew that Saul, Jonathan, and Israel needed a trial, so He did one of those things He does a lot: He surprised them. God simply kept Samuel from coming to offer the sacrifice, as Samuel had committed himself to do. This disconcerted Saul mightily. God is good at this. He can pull the rug out from under you as no one else can do. You will find out what you have when God throws you like this. If you have a heart full of humility and of confidence in God, it will not upset you too much. You will just keep trusting. As Brother Paul said, “But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead.”* (2 Corinthians 1:9) It is a mighty good thing to have a sentence of death of trusting in yourself when God pulls the rug out from under you, but Saul did not have it. His thoughts were whirling furiously, and he was dedicated to taking care of the Lord’s business even if God didn’t appear to be taking care of it, so he forced himself and did what he knew he shouldn’t do. This is where our own reasoning will get us: HE FORCED HIMSELF! The situation was compelling. He had to do it—or so he thought. The point of the whole thing, arranged by God Himself, was outside of the grasp of his own thinking. He was being tested. God was proving to him what he would do when things were impossible.

Thus God corners us. Lazarus dies, and all we can think is that if Jesus had been here, he would not have died. He will rise again, we are told, but we immediately conclude that, of course, it will be at the general resurrection. We are sure that certain things must happen, and when God ignores our perceived need, then we are flustered and perplexed.

It is worth considering that Samuel was not as disconcerted by his absence as Saul was. Nor was Jonathan. Nor was anyone in Israel who had his eyes on the Lord. Nor do we need to be. Lord, help us to be little enough in our own eyes to trust You as we should! But Saul was so troubled that he forced himself. There is something here to take note of indeed! Beware the forcing! Beware the state of mind and heart that leads to the forcing! Imagine the shock on the faces of those who trusted in God, as Saul said, “Bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings.”* (1 Samuel 13:9)

Of course, as soon as Saul made himself cross this line, Samuel appeared. “What hast thou done?”* (1 Samuel 13:11) Good question, was it not? Sad question, too. The careful explanation: I had to do what I should not have done. The judgment and conclusion: “Thou hast done foolishly…. But now thy kingdom shall not continue.”* (1 Samuel 13:13-14) It was humbling-down time for sure, but the man could not find the place to humble down. It all seemed unfair to him. He had done the best that he could. His pride prevented him from seeing the path of wholesale abandonment of his own understanding. His pride was the problem and continued to be the problem.

And so the Lord stirred the trusting heart of Jonathan. He left the thousand that his father had put under his care, and he and his armor bearer went out to do a little reconnaissance. But it turned out to be a lot more than that. Now this burden, this stirring, was of the Lord, so “he told not his father.”* (1 Samuel 14:1) Jonathan and his father had had a good relationship, for he said at a later date, “My father will do nothing either great or small, but that he will shew it me.”* (1 Samuel 20:2) But he didn’t tell his father about this little expedition that he and his armor bearer ventured forth upon.

While Jonathan and his companion were observing the Philistines, King Saul was trying to get everything in the camp of the Israelites to be done decently and in order. He had a priest on hand (no more waiting on Samuel), and there was no way that he was going to offer that sacrifice himself this time. He proclaimed a fast, too; and had laid the foundation for a glorious victory.

Trouble was, God wasn’t in it at all. God had His own plans, and He had inspired two men who were observing a host of Philistines in the heights above them while Saul was careful about many things. These men put out a fleece, and when that prayer was answered, the two of them climbed up a height to take on the entire Philistine army. These two men, led by and empowered by God, slaughtered the enemy, and the Bible says, “And there was trembling in the host, in the field, and among all the people: the garrison, and the spoilers, they also trembled, and the earth quaked: so it was a very great trembling.”* (1 Samuel 14:15)

Down in the Israelite camp, Saul was carefully and meticulously proceeding with what seemed best to him. In the midst of his labors, he became aware of the tumult (caused by God and two men led of Him) up there where the Philistine army was encamped. The commotion was such that it was impossible to ignore. But Saul does not respond like a man led by the Lord. He numbers the people. Jonathan and his armor bearer are missing. He commands that the ark of God be brought. Finally Saul interrupts the service. He is running and directing things, but God has interrupted him and his ideas. “And it came to pass, while Saul talked unto the priest, that the noise that was in the host of the Philistines went on and increased: and Saul said unto the priest, Withdraw thine hand.”* (1 Samuel 14:19) He and the rest of the Israelites join the battle, only to find that God doesn’t need them. The Israelites that had allied themselves to the Philistines now forsook them and joined Jonathan and his armor bearer, and the Israelites that had been hiding in the woods out of fear had gained courage and entered the battle. But the crowd of Israelites with Saul were not benefitted by his leadership; they were hindered. “And the men of Israel were distressed that day: for Saul had adjured the people, saying, Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening, that I may be avenged on mine enemies. So none of the people tasted any food.”* (1 Samuel 14:24) This untimely fast hindered the people; it was not ordered of God; it was ordered by a man not led by the Lord.

Jonathan knew nothing of this uninspired fasting. “And all they of the land came to a wood; and there was honey upon the ground. And when the people were come into the wood, behold, the honey dropped; but no man put his hand to his mouth: for the people feared the oath. But Jonathan heard not when his father charged the people with the oath: wherefore he put forth the end of the rod that was in his hand, and dipped it in an honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his eyes were enlightened.”* (1 Samuel 14:25-27) At that point he was told of the command his father had put forth against eating.

When King Saul found out that Jonathan had eaten (ignorantly), he wanted to put his own son to death. Even though this son had been used by God to gain the victory! Even though Jonathan knew nothing of the command not to eat! Even though the fasting had not been blessed of God, but had hindered. Thus we see that the ways of men and the ways of God are completely opposed. That “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution,”* (2 Timothy 3:12) even at times when it seems ridiculous and contrary to everything that is right and fair. The problem is that the ways of men and the ways of God—in doing right and fighting wrong—are completely different. Men have their policies; they learn and adjust. God does not learn; He knows. Men compel obedience for the greater good. God reveals enough truth to those who have ears to hear that a man can work when the Father works. “For there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few.”* (1 Samuel 14:6)

After the battle, Jonathan was greatly strengthened in the truth. The truth was reaffirmed to him. How it burned in his soul! But his father was ill at ease. “I was doing everything right….” “We won the victory….” There is reason for this uncomfortableness. It does not fit together right. He was there and fought in the battle, but he did not really share in the blessing. When the work of God is done right, the children of God are drawn together in Him.

The poet expressed it in this way:

“There’s a peaceful valley of decision found,
Where unbroken fellowship and love abound;
Softly falls the glory of the evening light
On its saints arrayed in white.

“In this pure ‘decision,’ all the holy dwell,
All who follow Jesus in His perfect will;
And they only glory in the Crucified,
And in all His truth abide.”

The poet concludes with:

“Oh, how sweet is my rest,
In the vale of the blest;
For the Lord is so near,
And His saints are so dear.”*

There are so many side benefits to the victories that God gives to His children. Their unity and oneness is enriched. We prayed for a healing, and God answered prayer and healed—but there is so much more! Praise His name. “Who daily loadeth us with benefits!”* (Psalm 68:19) God doesn’t just heal the body, He blesses the soul; He blesses the body of believers.

All of this was missing from Saul’s experience. It is highlighted by his attempts (with an awful zeal) to put his son to death. The people would not let him. They saw what his father could not see. So Saul accepted a new principle by which to conduct himself. It was not a principle from the Lord. In a subsequent failure, he excuses himself to the prophet, The people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen””* (1 Samuel 15:15); “Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and have gone the way which the LORD sent me…. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed.”* (1 Samuel 15:20-21) The prophet did not accept the false reasoning. Samuel knew (along with all who love the Lord in truth) that there is no excuse good enough to disobey the voice of the Lord.

At this point, it is horrifying to observe the state of things in Israel. A false authority, a rejected authority, was in charge. And God was letting it exist and assert itself. God could have taken Saul right out of this world at that point, but He did not. God left him as a trial to all who loved Him in Israel. Jonathan. Samuel. And many, many others. God did not leave His children alone in this battle. He had a way for them to follow.

King Saul had patronage. He had the power to reward you for working with him, and He had the power to make life miserable for you if you did not. In his jealousy and strife with David, he said to his men, “Hear now, ye Benjamites; will the son of Jesse give every one of you fields and vineyards, and make you all captains of thousands, and captains of hundreds.”* (1 Samuel 22:7) If you sided or went along with Saul, you could get fields and vineyards, but if you resisted Saul and sympathized with David, your only reward was the blessing that came with doing what was right—and the persecutions that went with it.

Saul was left in place as a test by the Lord God Almighty. Thus the Lord tried the men of Israel. Some did shameful things, as Doeg (not even an Israelite) did. Others took the path of Nabal. Some took the path of Abner. This looked much more honorable than the paths of Doeg and Nabal, yet the final conclusion of the matter must be that Abner was not led of the Lord. Abigail was. Even Michal, David’s wife, forsook the path of right.

We look around in our time, and we see the dishonorable who partake of the benefits of sectarian government, and we see the more noble who also partake of the same. But God is calling for a people who will be led of Him, will follow Him, and will not hear the voice of strangers. This was true in the Old Testament of Jonathan, who stayed true to God and walked in unity with David, the Lord’s anointed, in spite of family ties and all else. Jonathan put God first—there was nothing in between. His trueness to God opened his eyes to the validity of David’s calling and to the falsity of his father’s position. I do not doubt that David and Jonathan are rejoicing in Paradise today. They were not separated in their lives down here, and they will never be separated again. King Saul is in the other place, with a great host of those who took another path than the one that God had for them.

“Well,” you might say, “okay—King Saul was the villain!” He was. So were all the others who did not follow God’s way with all their heart. It is worthwhile here to remember that the problems of the Israelite nation predated King Saul. Their leaders were not inclined to follow the ways of the Lord before Saul was born. Each of the people was presented with the choice that Saul and Jonathan had.

God gives to every man a choice. I may choose to do as seems best to me, regardless of the dealings of the Spirit of God with me; or I may yield to God, give up my ways, and put all my trust in Him. If I yield, I will find that He never fails. If I rebel and resist, I will find that God lets me go. He will let me go until He calls me into judgment. He will not enslave; He only wants volunteers. Samuel: one of God’s volunteers. David: one of God’s volunteers. Jonathan: one of God’s volunteers.

What about me?