“For nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.” (1 Samuel 14:6)
Saul was a man after the people’s heart. He had exactly what the Israelites wanted in a king. Splendid physique. Fine looks. A noble pedigree. Fighting skills. Yet he lacked the indispensable attribute required by God. His heart was not set on God. He was also fearful (recall his hiding among the baggage on the day he was to be ordained, cf. 1 Samuel 10:22).
Perhaps God also chose Saul for the people so he could show them that their concept of a king was flawed. What they needed was a leader who sought God and trembled at his word, and not merely one with military might. For God was the one to fight their battles and not any human king. God had shown through the life of Gideon (and through other instances) that he could defeat their enemies without any help from them.
Obviously, the people had a contrary outlook, confirming what God would say to Samuel much later (1Samuel 16:7). God simply saw differently. Men looked at externals, but God assessed the heart.
And here was the difference between Saul and his son, Jonathan. Jonathan remembered the miracles that God had wrought through his fathers. How God had miraculously delivered the Israelites from the forces of Egypt, how he had helped them to overcome the numerous cities of Canaan, how he had conquered the Midianites with just 300 soldiers under Gideon, and defeated the Philistines in the days of Samson.
And he knew victory was not in the hands of the host of Israel but in the Lord of hosts. The God who made a way through the Red Sea could do anything, even rout a garrison of Philistine soldiers with just Jonathan and his armor bearer. In other words, like his later friend, Jonathan was a man after God’s heart.
Jonathan was a man of faith, but Saul was held back by fear. Interestingly, they both acted. But one acted rashly out of anxiety because his troops were leaving him. He offered a sacrifice which he was not qualified to (1 Samuel 13:9, 10). The other went ahead to fight the enemy because he trusted in his God.
Because he had faith in God’s working, Jonathan could freely love David as his own soul. He did not see David as a threat but as a brother. On the other hand, Saul immediately became antagonistic once he sensed God’s favour upon David. Forgetting that his rule as king was given by God and could be (and had been) withdrawn by him, he was determined to crush David. Fear drove him to hate David whom he had initially loved. In his fear of losing power, he became a maniac. Rather than leverage on David’s reputation and skill for the growth of the kingdom, he drove him into the wilderness. And eventually it cost Saul both his throne and his life.
Activity in itself proves nothing. The motive behind it, however, makes all the difference. Like Saul, we can act out of fear. Fear of losing the esteem and regard of others. We can make decisions to suit what is generally accepted, rather than chart a new path. Or we can be people of faith taking bold risks for God’s glory. We can yield to the leading of the Holy Spirit to take on a challenge. As modern Jonathans, we can go in the confidence that God simply delights in us being partners with him. It is never our skill or effort that gets the job done; it is always God working through us.
Are you pursuing a course because you fear being ‘different’? Are you into something or refusing to participate only for the sake of being normal? Have you taken a step which, though unpopular, is in line with God’s call?
Fear not but trust in the Lord. Set your heart upon him and heed his command. Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion which cannot be moved but abides forever (Psalm 125:1).
Go in faith!