Publication: One-to-One, Summer 2008
Leaders cannot accomplish very much alone, no matter how strong or intelligent they may be. They need others who carry their vision, are committed to their strategy, are willing to share the danger, and watch their leader’s back. This story involves such a person who played a key role in a significant victory that Israel won over the Philistines – against overwhelming odds. He was an armorbearer. Like most such people, he remains nameless, but his role was vital.
The story happened eleven hundred years before Christ, but the principles have not changed.
Moses and Joshua had been great leaders, but after their tenure Israel fell into a long decline of disunity and finally moral chaos. Judges 17:6 characterizes this period as, “Every man did what was right in his own eyes.” A more modern expression would be, “Do what is right for you”, or “Look out for number one.” The result in Israel was self-serving gratification and fragmentation.
There was another result: Israel fell under the domination of the Philistines. The Promised Land of milk and honey became a nightmare. Various leaders like Samson and Gideon arose, but none could permanently unite the people and reverse the moral tide.
Finally, the people began to ask for a king like other nations had. So, Samuel, the prophetic leader of the people found a man whom he ordained as king. Much more could be said about the process, but the Lord gave the people what they desired, though it wasn’t the highest purpose for them.
The king’s name was Saul, and he looked the part: head and shoulders taller than other men, a good man, and reluctant to accept the job; nevertheless, the Lord anointed him. His previous experience was working for his father herding donkeys; an unlikely preparation for royalty, though in some ways foretelling of his task.
Saul reigned one year, but Israel was still oppressed. He gathered 3,000 men to fight against their oppressors, the Philistines. He assigned one thousand of those men to his son, Jonathan, who proved to be more courageous and effective than his father. Jonathan led a successful battle against the Philistines. When Saul got the good news, he celebrated with blowing the trumpet. The word went out that Saul had won the victory.
The celebration was short-lived. The Philistines responded with 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen. It was a major problem! The mood among the Israeli army drastically deteriorated. Another major problem was that the Israelis had few weapons. They had even depended upon the Philistines to sharpen their tools. Saul’s 3,000 – man army soon became 600 men trapped and trembling. The deserters ran away and hid.
Saul was now desperate, grossly outnumbered, and left with an inexperienced and frightened army; he decided to do something religious. He sent for Samuel, who had anointed him to be king, so that sacrifices could be offered. But alas, Samuel was late in arriving. The priest who remained with Saul was Ahijah, nephew of Ichabod; his names means “the glory is gone.” Indeed it was.
Saul pressed on and offered a sacrifice, something that he was not authorized to do. Just as he concluded, Samuel showed up and openly rebuked him. Furthermore, Samuel told Saul that his lineage would not continue to rule after him due to his disobedience. Then Samuel left the camp.
Meanwhile Philistine raiders were plundering and causing havoc. Things could not have been worse for Israel.
JONATHAN AND THE ARMORBEARER
Someone else decided to leave the camp-Jonathan. The hopeless situation motivated him to be bold and take action. He and his armorbearer quietly left the area unnoticed. They made their way through a narrow crevice between two cliffs; at the top of on cliff was an enemy garrison-the military men assigned to protect Philistine interests.
Jonathan spoke to his armorbearer, “Let’s go over to these Philistines, maybe the Lord will work for us. He is able to deliver by many…or by few.” Actually, Jonathan called them “uncircumcised Philistines,” meaning they were not covenant people.
The danger was evident: The climb up the face of the cliff would be treacherous and exhausting; when they reached the top they would be vastly outnumbered. But, this armorbearer’s heart was with his leader, and the leader was waiting for the answer.
“Do all that is in you heart; I am with you.” Jonathan’s faith and courage were matched by the armorbearer. The two would act as one. Covenant, courage, and faith attract God’s attention. Every leader needs such support if victories are to be won. Israel was desperate for such leadership and courage …so is the Church.
“We will cross over to the Philistines and let them know that we are here. If they say, ‘Wait and we will come to you.’ We will wait here. If they say, ‘come up to us’, then we will go up; that will be a sign to us that the Lord has given them into our hands.”
So, Jonathan and his armorbearer showed themselves to the enemy. The Philistines were surprised, “Look, the Hebrews have come out of the holes where they have been hiding. Come up here and we will show you something!”
Jonathan turned to his armorbearer, “Come up after me, for the Lord has given them into our hands.” So they climbed up the cliff as the gleeful Philistines waited. But as Jonathan and the armorbearer reached the top, the ground began to shake; the Philistines fell into terror and confusion, and then Jonathan and his friend advanced to destroy the enemy. Twenty Philistines fell within a half acre.
Meanwhile back at the camp, Saul and his leaders were still talking as the watchmen noticed the tumult on top of the hill. Jonathan and the armorbearer were continuing to advance against the Philistines. Finally, Saul stopped talking and called his troops into the battle. Those who had been hiding took heart and joined. First Samuel 14:23 concludes the episode saying, “The Lord saved Israel that day.”
I believe the story as it was written. There have been many times in history when God intervened in the affairs of men to dramatically effect outcomes. The defeat of the Spanish Armada or the events at Dunkirk come to mind. In 1968, I visited Israel and saw the remains of the Six-Day War from 1967. Israel had been vastly outnumbered and attacked on three sides, but won decisively in only six days. There were many stories of miracles during those battles.
Here are a few significant Life lessons:
Leaders need courageous and committed support in order to succeed.
Leadership requires more than a good image.
Leaders should not “blow the trumpet” or take credit for someone else’ success.
Real leaders will not sit still and wait to die when bold action is required.
Real leaders know that when they act, they will need God’s help.
Wise leaders ask for commitment before they act.
Wise leaders do not rely on religious activity for deliverance.
Wise leaders understand that the enemy is not invincible.
Wise leaders remain flexible in strategy.
Real leaders understand that when the time comes, they must risk everything.
Armorbearers are those who are willing to take all the risk without concern for acclaim or to be “number one”.
Leaders and armorbearers do not quarrel with cowards, because cowards will join them once victory becomes apparent.
There are also many other lessons that we can learn from Israel’s culture. When a society fragments, there are spiritual, psychological, and philosophical reasons for it. Radical individualism, or placing the priority on self-interest over the common good, or self-indulgence over self-discipline are formulas for decline (see Judges 17:6). And leaders who pander to interest groups or to personal indulgence are not leaders at all, they are enablers of destruction.
Another lesson one could gather is that religion in itself does not move God to help, nor does offering sacrifice (see Hebrews 10:5-7). What God is seeking is those who are willing to do His will. The sacrifice He seeks is the sacrifice of our will in favor of His will. When we make that sacrifice, He gets involved.
Military stories are probably out of season for most people. Nevertheless, we face a militant secularism at home and a militant form of Islam abroad. Our valuable resources are being raided-especially our children. Pacifism in the face of a hostile and brutal tyranny is criminal. The bold among us will not long abide some relative of Ichabod during incantations over a defeated group.
More and more youth are turning away from an unchallenging Church. Some are finding their contests in sports, even extreme sports. Others are volunteering for the military, but more are hiding in drugs. There are Jonathans and armorbearers out there if the Church can discover them and point them to the battle.
Our youngest son was named after Saul’s son, Jonathan; and our oldest son after another courageous New Testament character, Stephen. Our son Jonathan recently helped out a former “Hell’s Angel” gang member over a period of months, led him to the Lord, and baptized him. There are many potential “Jonathans” and
“armorbearers” out there yet to be reached and discipled.
When Eliab, David’s older brother, challenged David over his desire to fight the giant, David responded, “Is there not a cause?” Indeed there was, and is! The cause is clear, “go into all nations and make disciples ….” That call and commission was issued by the “captain of the Lord’s armies.” (See also Joshua 5:14-15; Romans 9:29; James 5:4.)
Our Lord Jesus trained disciples who became spiritual armorbearers. One of them, Peter, had to learn to put away his sword, but finally became a powerful force against the real enemy (see Matthew 26:52). The apostle Paul says in Ephesians 6:12, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, powers, rulers of darkness, spiritual armies of wickedness.” Many Christians could stop at the first three words of this quote, “we wrestle not….”
But, most of us do have to wrestle in some arena and we need God’s help. I want to encourage you to be bold, exercise faith, and do not wait for defeat to find you. I would encourage you to also pray for an armorbearer to stand with you in the conflict. Perhaps the best way to have a real armorbearer in our battles is to first be one for someone else. Be able to say to your leader, “Do all that is in your heart; I am with you!”
Scripture Reference: 1 Samuel 14:7; 23; Judges 17:6; Hebrews 10 :5-7; Joshua 5:14-15; Romans 9:29; James 5:4; Matthew26:52; Ephesians 6:12
Charles Simpson is an internationally-known author, Bible teacher, and pastor, serving in ministry since 1955. He is also Editor-in-Chief of One-to-One Magazine and ministers extensively throughout the United States and the nations.