Bible Heroes & Villains

Jonathan and his Armor-Bearer

Jonathan’s triumph in this battle is one of my favorite illustrations of how God works through people to spread Light and overcome Darkness.

Jonathan was the son of Israel’s first king—Saul. Indeed, Jonathan was the last, best hope to reverse the declining fortunes of Saul’s reign. The last, best hope to establish a long-lasting dynasty of Saul to rule God’s people, Israel.

Ultimately, the flaws of Saul led to military defeat at the hands of the Philistines, causing the deaths of both Saul and Jonathan. It fell to David—Jonathan’s best friend—to establish the long-lasting dynasty that would rule God’s people, Israel.

It’s apparent that Jonathan had the skill set to become a successful king of Israel. His faith in God and his military skill are captured in a story that tells how Jonathan and his armor-bearer routed the Philistine army.

Jonathan’s triumph in this battle is one of my favorite illustrations of how God works through people to spread Light and overcome Darkness.

The story begins against a discouraging background. If Jonathan had seen Star Trek, he would have agreed with Captain Kirk’s assessment of the situation in the movie Generations: “the odds are against us and the outlook is grim.” That’s usually the kind of situation where people start looking for help from God (or at the very least from Captain Kirk!). Because—except in the make believe world of TV and movies—people can’t overcome such odds and such grim outlooks without God’s help.

In Jonathan’s day, God’s people were inferior to their enemies in many ways.

God’s people were inferior technologically. They did not have the ability to forge iron tools. “Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel” (1 Samuel 13:19).

Israel’s technological inferiority was not the result of stupidity. It was due to the deliberate strategy of their enemies. The Philistines said that they must not let the Israelites have blacksmiths, “[o]therwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears!” (1 Samuel 13:19).

As happens today, technological inferiority led to economic exploitation. Since they were not allowed to have blacksmiths, “all Israel went down to the Philistines to have their plowshares, mattocks, axes, and sickles sharpened” (1 Samuel 13:20).

We are told that “[t]he price was two thirds of a shekel for sharpening plowshares and mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening forks and axes and for repointing goads” (1 Samuel 13:21). I’m not an expert in ancient currencies. But since the whole point of this story is to stress how badly things were going for the Israelites, I’m sure these prices were neither cheap nor fair.

Just as happens today, the people with the superior technology—the Philistines—got richer while everyone else got poorer.

Finally, as remains true today, technological inferiority and economic inferiority led to military inferiority. It’s true whether you’re building nuclear weapons, cruise missiles and stealth bombers, or building chariots, iron swords and spears. The country with the superior technology builds better weapons and the country with the superior economy builds more weapons.

And so the Philistines had three thousand chariots (1 Samuel 13:5). But in Israel’s army “not a soldier with Saul and Jonathan had a sword or spear in his hand; only Saul and his son Jonathan had them” (1 Samuel 13:22).

Fortunately—as also remains true today—technological, economic and military power ultimately will yield to spiritual power. In this case, all the Philistine’s chariots and iron swords could not prevail against the faithfulness of Jonathan and his armor-bearer.

This victory for God’s people began with the determination and the vision of just one person: Jonathan!

Jonathan said to his armor-bearer: “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows” (1 Samuel 14:6). Jonathan’s desire for action and hope for victory were not based on superior weaponry. His hope was in the LORD. He explained to his armor-bearer: “perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6).

It’s essential to have someone with vision. But it’s just as essential to have someone to encourage the person with the vision.

If you cannot be a Jonathan, then be an armor-bearer. Encourage those to whom God has given an “iron sword” and the vision to wield it!

Jonathan’s armor-bearer might have tried to discourage him. He could have reminded Jonathan that the Philistines had far more soldiers than Israel did. He could have despaired because the Philistines were at the top of a cliff, giving them a big advantage in any fighting.

But instead of saying such discouraging things, the armor-bearer encouraged Jonathan. He said, “Do all that you have in mind” (1 Samuel 14:7).

Most important, the armor-bearer did not stop with encouraging words. He said, “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul” (1 Samuel 14:7). No leader can do it all alone. We all need armor-bearers who have the courage to take the risks of leadership with us—to be with us heart and soul.

Now, the vision of victory was clear. Now, courageous people were willing to risk everything to win the victory. The next step toward winning that victory was deciding the right timing and the right tactics to advance God’s purposes. Spiritual victories can only be won in God’s good time and in God’s good way.

Jonathan decided that the right time was now. And the right way was to show themselves to the Philistines at the top of the cliff.

The Philistines ridiculed Jonathan and his armor-bearer. They said, “Come up to us and we’ll teach you a lesson” (1 Samuel 14:11-12).

The taunts of the Philistines showed their arrogance. And their overconfidence. Jonathan became convinced that this was the moment when God wanted him to act. He “said to his armor-bearer, ‘Climb up after me; the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel’” (1 Samuel 14:12).

There comes a moment when God’s people must stop talking and start acting! Jonathan and his armor-bearer climbed up the cliff and killed the roughly twenty Philistines in the half acre near the cliff—an area about the size of a football field (1 Samuel 14:13-14).

When God’s people are faithful and put their faith into action, God magnifies their impact many times over. In Jonathan’s case, what started as an attack on an outpost, put the entire Philistine army into a panic (1 Samuel 14:15).

The overconfident braggarts in the Philistine army panicked when they discovered that the enemy they despised and taunted was actually a skilled, determined foe. In addition, “the ground shook,” increasing this “panic sent by God” (1 Samuel 14:15).

The next step in magnifying the effect of Jonathan’s vision and faithfulness was the impact on God’s other followers. When the Israelite lookouts saw the Philistines in a panic, Saul mustered his forces and joined the attack (1 Samuel 14:16-20).

Just as today, a few faithful visionaries among God’s people may inspire many others.

By the time Saul’s army entered the battle, the Philistines were “in total confusion, striking each other with their swords” (1 Samuel 14:20).

Just as today, the forces of evil may turn against each other when finally confronted by righteous people. What once looked like an invincible, united force becomes divided against itself. And, “a house divided against itself will fall” (Luke 11:17).

The crumbling of evil attracts even more people to the righteous side. Those Israelites who’d been serving with the Philistine army revolted and joined Saul’s attack (1 Samuel 14:21).

Just as today, many people side with evildoers because they fear that evil cannot be overcome. Their despair becomes their destiny. Once they see that there is hope for the Righteous Cause, they welcome the chance to join the fight against evil. Spreading Light! Overcoming Darkness!

Therefore, as the Philistines fled, Israelites who’d been hiding in fear joined the attack to pursue the Philistines (1 Samuel 14:22).

Just as today, many people had forsaken their allegiance to the Righteous Cause. These people started spreading Light and overcoming Darkness again just as soon as they saw the Righteous Cause was gaining the upper hand.

“So the LORD rescued Israel that day” (1 Samuel 14:23). And so the LORD can rescue Humanity today.


Through the visions of people like Jonathan.

Through the encouragement of helpers like his armor-bearer.

Through people just like you.

Spreading Light!

Overcoming Darkness!

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This blog is based on pages 15-19 of my book, Healing The Promised Land.

Few questions are more troublesome to me than how we cheer the killing of God’s enemies in some parts of the Bible, yet we claim to be following the Way of Jesus who commands us: “[D]o not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” and “[L]ove your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:39,44). Some of my thoughts on this quandary can be found on pages 17-18, 21-24 and 132-135 of my book, The Promised Land and in my blog “Judas Betrays Jesus: The Love of Money” posted 10-__-18 in the category “Villains of the Bible.”

A nore related to this blog can be found on page 367 of my book, Healing the Promised Land.