Jonathan: Acting Boldly in Faith

Click here for more messages from the book of 1 Samuel.
Click here to return to the Sermons page.

1 Samuel 13:16-14:23 (Jonathan attacks the Philistines)

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called “The Rise and Fall of Saul,” and last week we saw how Saul began his downward slide. This week’s passage focuses on Saul’s son Jonathan. And this is actually the third of three character studies in a row. First we saw Samuel as an example of someone who finished well. Then we saw Saul as an example of someone who instead of finishing well acted foolishly out of fear. Now this week we see Jonathan as an example of someone who instead of acting foolishly out of fear acts boldly in faith. (Read 1 Samuel 14:6-9)

As we said last week, it is a shame that Saul acted foolishly and lost the kingship, because his son, Jonathan, would have made a great king. Jonathan is everything his father should be as king: he is bold, daring and full of faith in God. Last week God told Saul through Samuel that he had chosen another king, a man after God’s own heart. That man is David, of course, but Jonathan also fits the description. You can’t read this passage without falling in love with Jonathan and his great, big, bold faith in God. And as we look at Jonathan’s faith together this morning, we can learn some important principles about acting boldly in faith for our own lives as well.

I. Do not fight like the world fights (13:16-22)

And the first principle is this: do not fight like the world fights. The world fights dirty, the world fights by its own rules, the world fights for its own causes and in its own ways. But as Christians, we are not to fight like the world fights.

   A. We fight a spiritual battle (16-18)
      – Ephesians 6:12; 1 Peter 5:8

First of all, we fight a spiritual battle. Now Saul in 1 Samuel 13 was fighting an actual, physical battle, but we find some interesting parallels to our spiritual battle here. Look at verses 16-18:

Saul and his son Jonathan and the men with them were staying in Gibeah in Benjamin, while the Philistines camped at Micmash. 17 Raiding parties went out from the Philistine camp in three detachments. One turned toward Ophrah in the vicinity of Shual, 18 another toward Beth Horon, and the third toward the borderland overlooking the Valley of Zeboim facing the desert. (1 Samuel 13:16-18)

So Saul and his men are in Gibeah, while the Philistines are camped at Micmash. You may remember from last week that Saul and his men were originally camped at Micmash, so this was a case of losing ground to the enemy. Not only has Saul lost ground, but now the enemy is sending out raiding parties to the north, west and east in order to gain even more ground.

As Christians involved in various conflicts we must always remember that we fight a spiritual battle. We read in Ephesians 6:12: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against … the spiritual forces of evil.” (Ephesians 6:12) You are not fighting other human beings. Your problems are not primarily health-related, financial or relational. As a Christian your primary struggle is always spiritual.

And just as the Philistines were sending out various raiding parties in different directions, your enemy is also on the move. We read in 1 Peter 5:8: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) It’s been said that the Christian life is not a playground, but a battleground. You are engaged in a spiritual battle with eternal consequences, and the enemy is on the move trying to gain new ground in your life. You had better be self-controlled and alert.

   B. We fight with spiritual weapons (19-22)
      – 1 Samuel 17:47; 2 Corinthians 10:3-4

But we not only fight a spiritual battle, we fight with spiritual weapons. Once again, we find an interesting parallel to this in our passage in 1 Samuel 13. Look at verses 19-22:

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!” 20 So all Israel went down to the Philistines to have their plowshares, mattocks, axes and sickles sharpened. 21 The 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. 22 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)

The Philistines not only outnumbered the Israelites, but they possessed military superiority as well. The Philistines controlled the technology for iron-making, and so they were able to limit Israel’s ability to make weapons. There were no blacksmiths in Israel, so the Israelites have to go to the Philistines for farming equipment and repairs. Saul’s soldiers don’t even have swords or spears; only Saul and his son, Jonathan, have them.

In other words this is a completely unfair fight. Saul is both outnumbered and outgunned in this battle. The Philistines have more soldiers and superior weaponry. They have the cutting edge, latest-technology, most advanced weaponry of their time.

Normally this would be a problem. But not when God is on your side. Do you remember David’s words to Goliath right before he killed him? “It is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s.” (1 Samuel 17:47) So what if you don’t have swords or spears or other earthly weapons as long as God is with you.

As Christians we do not fight as the world fights. We fight with spiritual weapons. We read in the New Testament book of 2 Corinthians: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” ( 2 Corinthians 10:3-4)

The world gets to use all sorts of weapons that you are not allowed to use as a Christian: violence, hatred, falsehoods, gossip, slander, rumors, outright lies. And just as with Saul sometimes it may seem like it’s not a fair fight. And guess what? It’s not fair. But not the way you think. It’s not fair because you’ve got God on your side, which means that you have the advantage! It’s not that it’s unfair to you. It’s actually unfair to the world. The world doesn’t stand a chance against the spiritual weapons you wield of love, prayer, faith and the gospel.

So that’s our first principle of acting boldly in faith this morning. Do not fight like the world fights. We fight a spiritual battle, and we fight with spiritual weapons.

II. Move forward with faith (13:23-14:14)

The second principle is this. If you want to act boldly in faith, then move forward with faith. Faith has a movement to it, and as a Christian you should always be moving forward with faith. There are several things we learn about moving forward with faith in this next section.

   A. The church should be on the offensive (13:23-14:3)
      – Matthew 16:18

First of all, the church should be on the offensive. Yes, Satan’s forces are on the move, Satan himself prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, but the church should never be on the defensive. The church should always be on the offensive. Look 1 Samuel 13:23-14:3:

Now a detachment of Philistines had gone out to the pass at Micmash. 14:1 One day Jonathan son of Saul said to the young man bearing his armor, “Come, let’s go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side.” But he did not tell his father. 2 Saul was staying on the outskirts of Gibeah under a pomegranate tree in Migron. With him were about six hundred men, 3 among whom was Ahijah, who was wearing an ephod. He was a son of Ichabod’s brother Ahitub son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the LORD’s priest in Shiloh. No one was aware that Jonathan had left. (1 Samuel 13:23-14:3)

So a detachment of Philistines went out to the pass at Micmash. The fight that’s about to take place here doesn’t have an official name like “The Gunfight at the OK Corral,” but I like to call it “The Battle at Micmash Pass.” Unbeknownst to his father, Jonathan heads out for Micmash Pass with his armor-bearer. Meanwhile Saul is back at Gibeah sitting under a tree. Now he is probably planning and administrating from there, but you can’t help but see the contrast here. Saul sits; Jonathan acts. Saul is content to play defense; Jonathan goes on the offense.

With Saul at Gibeah is the priest, Ahijah. Ahijah is part of the rejected priesthood of Eli, which parallels the rejection of Saul’s line as king. Ichabod is mentioned here as well. The name Ichabod means “the glory has departed,” and between the rejected line of Eli and the rejected line of Saul, the glory had indeed departed Israel.

But in the midst of this incredibly demoralizing situation, Jonathan takes action. He grabs his armor-bearer and takes off on military maneuvers. This is an unauthorized, covert, special-ops mission. Why didn’t he ask Saul first? Maybe he knew Saul would say no.

But whatever the reason, Jonathan is a wonderful example of the church’s mission in the world today. The church should not be playing defense but offense. Jesus said in Matthew 16:18: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18) That word “overcome” is a word that means “prevail against.” In other words the church is on the offensive, storming the gates of hell, and the gates of hell will not stand against it. That’s the first thing we learn about moving forward with faith in this section. The church should be on the offensive.

   B. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving (14:4-7)
      – Proverbs 21:30; Daniel 3:17-18; Romans 8:31

The second thing is this. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving. Look at verses 4-7:

On each side of the pass that Jonathan intended to cross to reach the Philistine outpost was a cliff; one was called Bozez, and the other Seneh. 5 One cliff stood to the north toward Micmash, the other to the south toward Geba. 6 Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.” 7 “Do all that you have in mind,” his armor-bearer said. “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.” (1 Samuel 14:4-7)

There was a lot that Jonathan needed to overcome for the Battle at Micmash Pass to succeed. First of all, the terrain was difficult. This pass was situated between two cliffs. One was named Bozez, which means shiny or slippery. The other was called Seneh, which means thorny or bramble-bush. There’s a reason why Saul had originally camped out at Micmash, and why the Philistines were camped out there now. It was a great place for a camp! It was hard to attack and easy to defend.

But none of this deters Jonathan. He tells his armor-bearer: “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.”

This is a remarkable statement. First of all, Jonathan calls the Philistines “uncircumcised.” In other words, Jonathan knew that the Philistines didn’t belong to God. They didn’t have a covenant relationship with God like Israel did. Jonathan was able to act boldly in faith because he knew that he was in relationship with God.

Notice his next phrase: “Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf.” Jonathan’s “perhaps” was not a lack of faith, but rather he was willing to trust God no matter what the results. This is similar to the attitude of Daniel’s friends in the account of the fiery furnace. They told the king: “The God we serve is able to … rescue us … but even if he does not … we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18) Faith is different from presumption. We should never presume to know God’s will in a specific situation. Rather, faith chooses to follow God wherever he leads us, and then trusts him with the results.

And then look at Jonathan’s final phrase: “Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.” Jonathan knew that he was outnumbered, but he also knew that when God is in the picture, numbers don’t matter. God can save by many. He can save by few. He can even save by one as the story of David and Goliath testifies.

Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving. Proverbs 21:30 says: “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord.” (Proverbs 21:30) Or as Paul says in Romans 8:31: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

   C. True faith results in action (14:8-14)
      – James 2:18

1) The church is meant to be on the offensive. 2) Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving. 3) And then thirdly, true faith results in action. Look at verses 8-14 with me:

Jonathan said, “Come, then; we will cross over toward the men and let them see us. 9 If they say to us, ‘Wait there until we come to you,’ we will stay where we are and not go up to them. 10 But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ we will climb up, because that will be our sign that the LORD has given them into our hands.”

11 So both of them showed themselves to the Philistine outpost. “Look!” said the Philistines. “The Hebrews are crawling out of the holes they were hiding in.” 12 The men of the outpost shouted to Jonathan and his armor-bearer, “Come up to us and we’ll teach you a lesson.”

So Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Climb up after me; the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel.” 13 Jonathan climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him. 14 In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre. (1 Samuel 14:8-14)

Jonathan’s faith wasn’t simply a faith of words. His faith was a faith of action. Jonathan is on difficult terrain, he is outnumbered by the Philistines, he has no backup, and yet he is still willing to move forward in faith. While Saul is sitting under a tree back in Gibeah counting his troops, Jonathan is on the move counting on God.

Jonathan tells his armor-bearer: “Let’s go out where they can see us.” Well, there’s a great strategy! But what a great example of faith! Everyone else is hiding; Jonathan steps out where the enemy can see him. He is ready to fight the Philistines if they come down to him, and he is ready to fight the Philistines if they call him to go up to them. In fact, if they call him up, Jonathan sees that as “a sign that the Lord has given them into our hands.” Jonathan’s name actually means, “The Lord has given,” and he certainly lives up to his name here.

The Philistines call them up, so up they go. And what follows is one of the most exciting fight scenes in all of Scripture. It would make a great scene in a movie: the Battle at Micmash Pass. The Philistines have the high ground, so Jonathan and his armor-bearer are at a disadvantage. The terrain is rough so they have to climb up using their hands and feet, which means they are completely defenseless during the climb. And yet Jonathan calls out his name’s meaning once again, crying out to his armor-bearer: “Climb up after me; the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel!” The Philistines may think they’ve got the high ground, but Jonathan and his armor-bearer have the real high ground because their trust is in the Lord.

When they reach the top, they proceed with a two-pronged attack. Jonathan goes first wounding the various Philistine soldiers, while the armor-bearer follows behind and finishes them off. This is an example of intense hand-to-hand combat with multiple defenders in a confined area, about the size of the grassy area of our church parking lot out back. And in the course of the fight Jonathan and his armor-bearer take out twenty men. That is amazing! This is like the stuff you see in the movies. I want my Jonathan action figure right now! Except it would be even better than an action figure. It would be a “true-faith-results-in-action” figure. Because Jonathan’s action was a direct result of his faith.

True faith always results in action. We read in James 2:18: “Someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James 2:18) You cannot separate true faith from action. They always go together. If you truly believe that God will help you defeat the Philistines, you will climb up a cliff on your hands and knees and make the attack. If you truly believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins, you will come to him asking for forgiveness. And if you truly believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God who rose from the dead, then you will confess him as Lord and follow him anywhere.

III. Victory comes from the Lord (14:15-23)

Which leads us to our third and final point: Victory comes from the Lord. Faith leads to victory, but the victory comes from the Lord.

   A. The battle is not yours, but God’s (15-19)
      – 2 Chronicles 20:15

And there are two things I want you to see here. First of all, the battle is not yours, but God’s. Look at verses 15-19:

Then panic struck the whole army—those in the camp and field, and those in the outposts and raiding parties—and the ground shook. It was a panic sent by God. 16 Saul’s lookouts at Gibeah in Benjamin saw the army melting away in all directions. 17 Then Saul said to the men who were with him, “Muster the forces and see who has left us.” When they did, it was Jonathan and his armor-bearer who were not there. 18 Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring the ark of God.” (At that time it was with the Israelites.) 19 While Saul was talking to the priest, the tumult in the Philistine camp increased more and more. So Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand.” (1 Samuel 14:15-19)

Jonathan and his armor-bearer attack in faith, but it is God who gives the victory. God sends both a divinely-inspired panic into the enemy camp along with a well-timed earthquake. Saul and his men were afraid of the enemy, but now the tables have turned, and the enemy is afraid of their God.

Saul’s lookout men see the enemy forces scattering and report back to Saul. Saul calls for another headcount and finds Jonathan and the armor-bearer missing. Yes, Saul is counting his troops again. There’s a lesson there, too. At some point in life you’ve got to stop counting and start moving. Then Saul shows further inconsistency when he calls for the ark to ask God’s will in the matter and then sends the ark away right in the middle of seeking divine help. Saul just doesn’t seem to know what to do. As David Tsumura comments: “Saul is a person who prays when he should act and acts when he should pray.” And of course we need to do both.

We read in 2 Chronicles 20:15: “Do not be afraid or discouraged … for the battle is not yours, but God’s.” (2 Chronicles 20:15) So that’s the first thing we see here. The battle belongs to the Lord. When you are in the thick of it, what a great encouragement to know that the battle is ultimately not yours, but God’s. You just need to be faithful.

   B. Your faith will encourage others to trust God too (20-23)
      – 1 Thessalonians 3:7; 1 Timothy 4:12

And then the second thing here is this: Your faith will encourage others to trust God too. Look at verses 20-23:

Then Saul and all his men assembled and went to the battle. They found the Philistines in total confusion, striking each other with their swords. 21 Those Hebrews who had previously been with the Philistines and had gone up with them to their camp went over to the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. 22 When all the Israelites who had hidden in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were on the run, they joined the battle in hot pursuit. 23 So the LORD rescued Israel that day, and the battle moved on beyond Beth Aven. (1 Samuel 14:20-23)

Because of Jonathan’s faith, Saul and his men joined the battle. Those who had defected to the other side came back to Israel and joined the battle. Those who were still in hiding came out of hiding and joined the battle.

When you act boldly in faith, your faith will encourage others to trust in God too. It was true for Paul in the New Testament. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 3:7: “Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith.” (1 Thessalonians 3:7) And Paul wrote to Timothy at Ephesus: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)

Jonathan acted boldly in faith. His faith inspired others to join the battle. But the bottom line is found in verse 23: “The Lord rescued Israel that day.” God rescued Israel through Jonathan’s faith and in spite of Saul.

CONCLUSION: Last week we saw Saul acting foolishly out of fear. What a difference this week as we see Jonathan acting boldly in faith. And what an encouragement to us in our own life of faith. We do not fight like the world fights. We are called to move forward in faith. Victory comes from the Lord. Where is God calling you to exercise faith today? Let me encourage you: Be bold, and move forward in Christ.

© Ray Fowler

You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this message provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and that you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For any web postings, please link to the sermon directly at this website.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copies:
By Ray Fowler. © Ray Fowler. Website:

Click here for more messages from the book of 1 Samuel.
Click here to return to the Sermons page.