A Heart that Is Courageous in the Ways of the Lord

A Heart that Is Courageous in the Ways of the LORD

One pitfall in reading the Old Testament is to read it like Aesop’s Fables, always looking for a moral to the story. This can (and has at times) some uncomfortable problems. One important key to grasping the Old Testament is to see that what is descriptive is not necessarily prescriptive. You have to look at a scene or episode through God’s clear directions in other places. And you look for the divine diagnosis in the story. Nevertheless, the Old Testament stories are meant to be guides, examples to us – as Paul repeatedly says in 1 Corinthians 10 and Romans 15.4; and you see how their example is used in Hebrews 11.
Two men. A father and a son. They share a family trait: (a) impatience with dwindling, disheartening circumstance; (b) willingness to take initiative. But in the end, there are different outcomes. One receives God’s displeasure; the other becomes the means of the LORD’s salvation and rescue. What’s the difference between them?

The Situation (13.1-8): The kingdom-of-God-resistors have drawn up their vast numbers, their horrendous hordes to stand against God’s kingdom – thousands upon thousands upon thousands upon thousands of fearsome, frightful, fierce men of war with their newest, cutting-edge technological weaponry (13.5). It’s an impressive scene in a knee-knocking, gut-rending way!

Sure enough, the people of God are filled with trepidation, consternation and apprehension. In the day of up-close-and-personal hand to hand combat, they were overwhelmed not only in numbers, but in their perception and in their faith. It was an impossible state of affairs! And so, in the swamping tide of impending catastrophe, there’s a mass church-exodus (13.8). The numbers have shrunk to make things even more unbearable. No way that 600 (13.15) low-tech, outgunned (13.19-23), out-supplied men can stand against the multiple thousands of highly equipped, heavily-armed, heftily- fortified soldiers! The handwriting is on the wall!!! It’s here that the father and son respond in similar and dissimilar ways.

Saul (13.8a, 9-15a). Apparently Samuel, God’s spokesperson, had coached Saul to set up camp at a specific place. Samuel gave him a 7 day window. Likely, the Prophet was orchestrating the call up of reservists and the National Guard during that time. Saul is daily, hourly getting more and more desperate. Then the day comes when Samuel should have appeared. No Samuel! Yikes! The people are scattering and scampering off, and there’s no Samuel to show that this is God’s battle that will end in God’s victory!

In desperation Saul exposes the family trait – he takes matters into his own hands. Something must be done, don’t you know! The pressure is intense, the desertions are irreparable. Maybe the troops were murmuring and muttering under their breath or to one another that Saul was running people off, or that Saul had lost his nerve. Whatever the case, it was a most distressing moment (13.11-12). So Saul rises up, steps out and takes action. But the action he takes is all wrong! Instead of waiting for the arrival of God’s Spokesperson – and thus God’s guiding, sustaining, saving Word – he soothed his conscience by religious rebellion! For Saul, as becomes increasingly clear in the rest of his life, religion is only about fabricating fortune; inciting encouragement; directing destiny! Saul’s deed here showed that he thought pragmatically – if it works just do it. Some emergencies just made God’s Word unnecessary.

Lo, and behold; at just that moment arrives Samuel. You can imagine the little voice in Saul’s head might just have gasped: “Doh! Busted big boy!” And Samuel voices God’s diagnosis of Saul’s action (13.13-14). A similar divine diagnosis is aired just 2 chapters later when Saul’s half-hearted, half-way obedience (which is thus, disobedience) is outed by God and he declares; “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king(1 Samuel 15.22-23).

Jonathan (14.1-10, 23). It’s the same scene. The circumstances are still discouraging. The future looks bleak for God’s people. The opposition is overwhelming! And here, Jonathan exhibits the family trait (14.1, 6): he rises up, steps out and takes action! But there is a clear difference. Saul tried to use God to create his fortune and success. Jonathan believed God! Jonathan’s conviction that God can save with many or few, produced a daring expectation (14.6!!!)! Saul’s religious rebellion showed his unbelief. Jonathan’s daring declared brilliantly his trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – a trust in the truth about God. …Jonathan had a belief, a heart that was much like good king Jeroboam’s a few hundred years later, “His heart was courageous in the ways of the LORD” (2 Chronicles 17.6a).

And observe that his trust is satisfied with whatever God decides to do! Jonathan is content with God. God can save by many or by few…but he just might choose not to (“It may be…” v.6). God is not bound and chained by Jonathan’s faith. He can rest on the promises of God, but he knows that God is bigger, grander, and unchained. He is not a god of magic; he is not a god of quid pro quo (my little bit of this for his great big that); and he is not the errand-boy god!

And what is the divine verdict on Jonathan’s decision? 14.23 – “So the LORD saved Israel that day.” “Jonathan was right: “nothing can keep Yahweh from saving by many or by few” (v.6b). This salvation, however, did not begin in royal mathematics (13:15b; 14:2) but with imaginative faith, faith that was willing to say, “Perhaps Yahweh will act for us”” (Dale Ralph Davis, “Looking on the Heart,” 139).

These two stories, or two parts of the same story, are huge for me. I have been stewing over them for the last several weeks. I’m a “take-action” kind of guy – especially in the face of dwindling, discouraging, desperate situations. I want to be the Nike Poster Boy, the “Just Do It” guy! And reading the two chapters several weeks ago pulled me up short and made me hesitate. Not just any old “Just-Do-It-ism” will do. I need God’s Word, and no emergency or pride, can trump that. But also a daring-heart – a heart like good king Jeroboam’s, “His heart was courageous in the ways of the LORD” (2 Chronicles 17.6a). Courageous in believing that God can save, rescue, deliver with a large number, or an itty-bitty number. But also courageous enough to trust him even if he chooses not to work for us.


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