Not by Your Strength, But By God’s Might – My Daily Bread!
Our call to believe mightily in the Lord is taken from 1 Samuel 14: 6, NIV which reads:
“Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, ‘Come let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the Lord will act on our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.’”
Jonathan was the son of King Saul the first anointed Israelite King after the period of the Judges. These words of his were recorded while in the midst of a fierce battle between the Israelites and their enemies the Philistines. Jonathan trusted in God to provide deliverance and demonstrated his willingness to act on behalf of the Lord even in the face of extraordinary odds. When you are faced with a seemingly hopeless situation do you believe that God can accomplish anything? Jonathan’s story is rich with encouragement for us today, so let’s listen carefully and hear something extraordinary about faith and courage!
The Philistines were one of the groups of people already living in the Promised Land when the Israelites began their conquest under Joshua. After the death of Joshua, although the majority of the nations were subdued or driven out, the conquest was still not complete. Instead of completing the task as commanded by God, the Israelites made covenants with some of the people and did not destroy their false gods. As a result God punished them by telling them that He would “not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.” (Judges 2: 1-3, NIV) They would also be left “to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the Lord’s commands, which He had given their forefathers through Moses.” (Judges 3: 1-6) The Philistines were one of the tribes who God said would remain because of Israel’s sin.
Four hundred years later, during the time of this battle the Philistines were still a “thorn in the side” of the Israelites. There is one other interesting factor that could have made the Israelites feel hopeless as they entered into battle on this day. The Bible tells us that the Israelites did not have any weapons! The army had no iron weapons and no ability to turn their tools into weapons. The Philistines had a monopoly on blacksmithing and sharpening tools and charged the Israelites exorbitant prices to even sharpen their tools! So you can guess who were not getting any tools made or sharpened when war started!
“Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel, because the Philistines had said, ‘Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears!’ So all Israel went down to the Philistines to have their plowshares, mattocks, axes and sickles sharpened…So on the day of the battle 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: 19-22, NIV) We are also told that “The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore.” (1 Samuel 13: 5, NIV)
The Israelites were in no position to conquer anyone and often found themselves on the run from the Philistines whenever they decided to attack which was often. They were sorely outnumbered in a battle against an army with superior weaponry and technology! And what effect did his have on the troops? “When the men of Israel saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns. Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul remained in Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear.” (1 Samuel 13: 6-7, NIV) Can you imagine if you were in charge of commanding these demoralized soldiers?
This is the very situation that Jonathan faced. And yet, being aware of all these things did not stop him from putting his complete trust and faith in God’s ability to deliver. He knew that the strength of Israel did not rest in the size of its army or the quality of its weapons; he understood that the strength of Israel was in their God! Perhaps He recalled Joshua’s encouragement to his forefathers when He told them “One of you routes a thousand, because the Lord your God fights for you, just as he promised. So be very careful to love the Lord your God.” (Joshua 23: 10 -11, NIV)
Jonathan and the armor-bearer put their faith in God for the outcome and God honored their faith with great victory! “The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him. In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre”. So twenty men with swords were killed by two men with one sword and faith that only comes from knowing God. And what of the rest of the battle? When Saul’s army heard the commotion and went to check it out; imagine their surprise to see that God had”sent a panic throughout the Philistine camp which caused them to kill each other”. “So the Lord rescued Israel that day and the battle moved on beyond Beth Aven.” (1 Samuel 14:15-23)
Knowing the source of your power is always crucial in any battle. Jonathan believed something about God that the rest of them apparently did not. He believed that God was not limited in His ability to work on their behalf; that his strength was not in weapons, but that God was the source of his strength and power. I wondered why God did not give them weapons; for surely He could have. Then it became clear to me – God wanted to make sure they understood that it was not by their strength, but by His might that they were saved!
Jonathan’s challenge is not to unlike some of our challenges today. When we are outnumbered, and our resources are depleted, when we do not see a way to obtain what we think we need to advance forward; and those around us scatter into the wind or we cannot find even one friend – yet our God patiently waits for that one act of faith that can alter our reality in a moment. And just like God withheld weapons from the Israelites, sometimes Saints, God withholds from us the very things we may need so we can focus our attention on Him as our source of strength, to remind us that nothing hinders the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few!
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