1 Samuel 13:1-7
Israel has become a "stench to the Philistines." In other words, this powerful enemy is ready to be rid of Israel, so they are mounting an offensive while the nation is still establishing an infrastructure under it's new king, Saul. So the Philistines assemble a massive military presence at the doorstep of Israel.
v. 6 tells us that the men of Israel were intimidated, overwhelmed and basically paralyzed with fear. Seeing the army prepared to come against them, they withdrew. The text says they "hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns, and some Hebrews crossed the fords of the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead."
In other words, at the very moment their enemy is ready to come after them, rather than rising up in faith, running to God in prayer, coming together in force, they retreated. They fled. They hid. Rather than fight their enemy, they looked for an escape.
We'll see how this plays out in the coming days, but I want to start the week by recognizing that we too have an enemy that hates us, that wants our demise and ruin, and who will stop at nothing to defeat us. We're talking in the categories of the world, the flesh and the devil. The world is our enemy in the sense of it's godlessness and self-indulgence; it's temptation and allure to sin; it's normalizing of wickedness and immorality and trivializing of God and spirituality. The flesh is our enemy in the sense of our internal resistance to God and the things of God. The devil is our enemy, of course, in the sense that he hates God and God's people and wants to enslave us, undermine our faith and lead us into our own destruction.
And our enemy is powerful in every sense. We feel our weakness and susceptibility to temptation; we see the strength of our sinful desires and the allure of the flesh; we feel overwhelmed and overpowered by our impulses and appetites; and trying to fight them off in the pursuit of humility and holiness is daunting. We are prone to giving in to sin, giving up on holiness, and just trying to get away from the struggle. And the question is what will you do, or what are you doing when your enemies mount an offensive against you?
Will you retreat or will you stand and fight?
What does retreat look like for you personally, and what are the ways you are learning to stand and fight?
1 Samuel 13:8-23
So, we in today's passage some more of how we respond under the pressure of opposition and threats from our enemy. First, we see the people are extremely fearful, which never leads to wise decisions or right responses. We need to pay attention to fear and let it draw us into a deeper analysis of our situation and our hearts. But we need to resist the instinct of submitting to fear as an unquestioned authority in our lives.
Fear in the people is an opportunity for Saul to show leadership, but instead, he joins them in fear and anxiety. It's worth noting that fear tends to be contagious, as does faith. Which you choose to operate out of and lean into will begin to awaken more of the same in others.
So, Saul gets anxious about Samuel not arriving, so much so that he asserts himself into a role that was not his to take, against the explicit command of the Lord. There are at least two ways in whic Saul's act of sacrifice was sinful...
Saul performed the act of worship through sacrifice, but he lost sight of the heart of worship, that is dependence upon God and wholehearted embracing of his authority. He was trusting in the means, not the ends of worship, fixating on the method rather than object of worship. Brothers and sisters, worship is not about our culturally conditioned forms of worship, such as singing songs and attending church. Worship is about hearts and lives being shaped by the surpassing worth of Christ. We are worshippers, by default, and we will worship every day, whether we're aware of it or not. Whatever we are ascribing worth to is what we worship. Whatever we love, think about, pursue, make time for, prioritize, and value enough to bend our lives around it, is what we worship.
Saul asserted himself, as mentioned above, in a role that was not his. God appointed a priest in Israel. He gave Saul the throne as King, but Samuel responsible for this priestly function. And Saul's pride led him to presume he could assume a role that was not his. He had a calling and even a ministry in Israel. He was given power and authority and influence, but he was not the one called by the Lord to mediate between God and the people. In fear and anxiety, Saul tried to take on responsibilities that were not his by design. Rather than depend on the Lord's wisdom, the people God put in place, and process God established, Saul tried to take control of the situation.
So, 2 questions:
What are you worshipping? And what forms of worship are you trusting in rather than the object of worship?
What are you trying to take control of that is not yours to control? Where are you trying to assert yourself in ways that God has not called you to do so?
1 Samuel 14:1-23
So Israel is scattered, scared and hiding from the Philistines. And Saul's son Jonathan decides to break up the monotony of hiding and waiting things out and with his armor bearer, he goes on the offensive. Spoiler alert if you haven't read the pasage yet... v. 23 says that "the Lord saved Israel that day." They were in daunting circumstances, surrounded and outneumbered by their enemies, almost waiting their inevitable defeat and death. So, how did their imminent defeat end up in God's salvation. As always we hold to believing in the sovereignty of God in saving sinners but also in the responsibility of man for their actions and choices.
So, how did God secure Israel's salvation and what role did Israel play? God used Jonathan in a profound way as the context for His victory. Here are three things we can learn from this passage about fighting our enemies - the world, the flesh and the devil - in a way that makes victory possible.
1. Recognize that we have a role to fight battles faithfully, but only God can win these battles powerfully. You are not responsible to defeat your enemies. But you are resonsible to engage and war against your enemy.
2. We have to ground our fight in faith. Jonathan shifted from retreating to advancing by simply believing that God may be inclined to save them (v. 6). We can get so fixated on the fearful circusmtances surrounding us or the weaknesses we know is within us that we forget the fact that our God is both Sovereign and a Savior. We don't need limitless faith, we just need living faith. Jonathan isn't displaying a ridiculous level of faith in God, when he says, "it may be that the Lord will work for us." Jonathan is just allowing for the posibility that God will intervene on their behalf. We'll never engage our enemy in a real way if we don't allow for at least the possibility that God will involve himself and perhaps give us victory.
3. We have to move. Living faith activates us. It leads us to take a real step. Jonathan doesn't just allow for the possibility in his mind that God could work on their behalf and then sit and wait for God to win a battle than was not taking place. Jonathan makes a move.
After devising a scenario to help discern whether God would grant them favor, Jonathan, v. 13 says, and I love this, that he "climbed up using his hands and his feet." The fight against our enemies is a grind. It is an uphill, daunting climb that demands our total engagement and all our energy and strength. You will not effectively fight or defeat sin by wishing it were so, thinking about it, planning for it, or by half-hearted engagement. Brothers and sisters, sin is only effectively fought through active and aggressive engagement. We help create conditions for God's victory to be won when we move intentionally and intensely to root out sin and confront our enemies.
Jonathan recognizes that no victory is coming through scattering and hiding. He allows for the possibility that God will interven on their behalf. He does the hard work of climbing up to confront and take on his enemies. And then God does what only God can do.
You cannot save yourself or free yourself. But I wonder if you are willing to do what you can do. Are you willing to fight, and leave the winning to God?
1 Samuel 14:24-46
There are some strange developments in this passage. Rather than getting distracted by the puzzling details, I want zero on the display of Christ. We talked about our tendency to retreat in fear, how we might instead fight in faith, and today we see the aftermath of Israel having fought and won this great victory. There are a things I see here we can learn...
1) Fighting leads to fatigue - v. 28 tells us the people were "faint." v. 31 tells us the people were "very faint." Weariness and exhaustion make us less alert, less watchful, more reactionary and more prone to drift.
2) Moments after great victories leads to great vulnerability - the relief of winning causes us to let up. We become self-congratulatory, and feel strong. We're less alert and watchful, and more relaxed and complacent. We see Israel take from the spoils of war and violate their national dietary laws in a sort of careless way.
Those are two practical insights for our spiritual engagement and needing to remain alert at all times, particularly following great spiritual victories. That is not the time to let up, but the time dig in and drill deeper. But let's not land on a heavy burden...
Israel is weak, weary, tired, hungry and need of nourishment, and in their haste they transgress laws the require sacrifices. Now, you add guilt to these other things and the burden of atonement is laid on them. Their exhaustion now gets exacerbated, and they have no chance to exhale. Praise God for the Gospel!
Christ has become the sacrifice for sin. We are still prone to sin or apathy in exhaustion, but no longer are we responsible to make sacrifices for every little slip up. Rather than compounding our weariness from fighting our enemy by being told "Go make sacrifices for your guilt," we live with the open invitation of "come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest." Rather than being told keep working or try harder or do it again, we can lean in to "it is finished." Brothers and sisters, your struggle and vulnerability is as real today as Israel's was on that day, but the necessary sacrifice for all sin as been made, and need only embrace Jesus through repentance and faith... and then just take a deep breath.