The Old Testament has some pretty interesting stories. My small group is currently reading 1 Samuel and I was struck in a new way by a familiar account. Remember when Jonathan and his armor bearer went to attack the Philistines on their own? Jonathan thought God might give them victory so he and his armor bearer went to test the waters. God did, indeed, give them victory. And then the rest of Saul's army joined in the fight. First Samuel 14:20–23 says:
Then Saul and all the people who were with him rallied and went into the battle. And behold, every Philistine's sword was against his fellow, and there was very great confusion. Now the Hebrews who had been with the Philistines before that time and who had gone up with them into the camp, even they also turned to be with the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. Likewise, when all the men of Israel who had hidden themselves in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were fleeing, they too followed hard after them in the battle. So the Lord saved Israel that day. And the battle passed beyond Beth-aven.
It sounds like a pretty big win. But 1 Samuel 14:24 says, "And the men of Israel had been hard pressed that day, so Saul had laid an oath on the people, saying, 'Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.' So none of the people had tasted food." Jonathan didn't hear about this vow. He was hungry from a day of fighting so when he saw some honey, he ate it. After hearing about his father's vow, Jonathan said, "My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey. How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies that they found. For now the defeat among the Philistines has not been great" (1 Samuel 14:29–30). Jonathan saw abundance and victory, provision and potential. Saul saw being hard-pressed and responded with self-imposed righteousness. Rather than equip his troops, Saul had them fast. Rather than serve those he led, Saul imposed on them. And things did not go well...
After striking down more of their enemies, and hungry and tired as they were, the people soon "pounced on the spoil and took sheep and oxen and calves and slaughtered them on the ground. And the people ate them with the blood" (1 Samuel 14:32). This was a sin against God, which Saul recognized. So Saul made provisions for the people to slaughter and consume their food appropriately. However, when Saul next sought to attack the Philistines and a priest suggested he ask God about doing so, God did not respond. Saul then ordered lots to be cast to find out if the issue was with the people or with him and Jonathan, vowing that the guilty party, even be it his son, would die. The lot fell on Jonathan, who confessed to his father about eating the honey. Saul was ready to kill him, but the people intervened.
The contrast between Jonathan and Saul in this account was evident to me in a way it never has been before. Jonathan went out to see what God might do, while Saul and his army were seemingly in stasis. In the battle, Jonathan rejoiced in the victory they were given. He ate honey and enjoyed it. In Jonathan I see a man who is confident in his God and who delights in the abundance God provides. He is willing to engage in God's work and to receive refreshment from God. Saul, on the other hand, is seeking to do things on his own. He makes rash vows and seemingly attempts to manipulate God. Rather than rejoice in victory, he imposes a fast on his people that ultimately leads them to sin. He then tries to appease God. Rather than live in the abundance and direction God provides, Saul attempts to go his own way.
I can too often be like Saul. I sometimes cower in fear or press ahead with my own plan rather than seek God's counsel. I can also be self-righteous. It can be easy to think that if we restrict ourselves enough or make enough sacrifices or have a dour attitude about all that remains to be done, we are actually pleasing God. It can be easy to focus on the enemies that still need to be vanquished and forget to praise God for the ones that are already defeated. It can be tempting to think that if we do enough right and avoid enough wrong, we can manipulate God into owing us something. In short, it's easy to think that life is all about us and our performance, to make up our own theory of how things are rather than live in God's truth.
In reality, "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away" (Isaiah 64:6). I can never be good enough to earn God's favor, and I'm certainly not strong enough to battle sin or Satan on my own. Righteousness and victory are in God alone. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." Second Peter 1:3-8 says:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God does the equipping and the providing; we engage with what He has provided. Like Jonathan, we trust in God for victory, but we also willingly go into the battle.
Saul depriving his troops of food did not help them defeat their enemies. The Pharisees' added regulations to God's Law did not win them salvation. My self-imposed methods of trying to defeat my enemies on my own will not work either. In fact, they often end up leading me even further from God. Rather than attempt to battle in my own strength, thinking I'll impress God, I need to fight the way God has equipped me to. I need to be aware of His gifts, His provision, and His presence. I do not battle alone, but fully equipped. When I avail myself of all that God has provided, victory can be great.
Fittingly, I am also currently doing Priscilla Shirer's Armor of God
Bible study. God has equipped us for battle, abundantly so. Ephesians 6 lists spiritual armor, including prayer, the primary way we access "heavenly places" and the mechanism by which we are fitted with the armor of God. Paul's letter builds on itself in many ways. By the time he writes about spiritual armor, the concepts he then puts into the soldier word picture have already been introduced. Likely I'll be sharing more of what I'm learning through this study in future blogs. But for now, I just want to rest in the fact, and invite you to rest in the fact, that our God is a God of abundance. The battle is hard. Life can seem long and burdensome. Our sin nature can seem overwhelming, the problems of a fallen world never cease, and we have a spiritual enemy on top of it (Ephesians 6:12; 1 Peter 5:8). But God has provided for all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). He is more than able and He is faithful. He will bring us to completion (Philippians 1:6). Jesus will return and Satan will be crushed forever (Revelation 20:7–10). Jesus came to bring life, and that to the full (John 10:10). He promises He will abide in us if we will abide in Him (John 15). He promises to produce fruit in us (John 15). He does not leave us alone or without the provisions we need. Rather, He is the conquering King and the lover of our souls. Ephesians 3:14–21 is one of my favorite passages. I pray it speaks to your heart today. May you know just how amazing our God is and how great can be our victory in Him.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:14–21