The First Book of Samuel records many of the conflicts which took place between God’s redeemed people Israel, and their inveterate enemies, the Philistines. The enmity of the Philistines towards the people of God was longstanding, and grievous harm had these enemies inflicted upon Israel in the course of their long warfare. A glance at their history as recorded in Scripture confirms this:
The meaning of the word “Philistines” – “Wallowers in the dust” – is suggestive as to the spiritual significance of these conflicts between them and the redeemed people of God. Earthly things are the Philistines of the New Testament and of the present age (see Phil. 3. 19; Col. 3. 1-4; Mark 4. 19 and 1 John 2. 15-17). With these foes the Christian has to wage unceasing warfare. Victory is gained in proportion as the believer remembers and lives in the felt power of the blessed truth of his union with the Lord Jesus Christ, and sets his mind upon the things above and not on the things below (Col. 3. 1-4).
In 1 Sam. 13. 17 and 14. 15 another term is used to describe the Philistines. They are called Spoilers. “And the spoilers came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies.” In the New Translation by J. N. D. they are called Ravagers, and this is apt, for these marauding Philistines were out after loot. As we have already seen, the Philistines were very keen indeed to get possession of the precious things belonging to the people of God. These Philistines, or earthly things, do spoil a Christian’s joy, rob him of peace, mar his usefulness, dim his hope, and wreck his fellowship with God. Observe the tragedy of this as disclosed in the sad lamentation of the apostle Paul in his second Epistle to Timothy concerning one who had made promise of better things; “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Tim. 4. 10).
How the Lord’s people need to be ever on their guard against these “spoilers”!
The warfare with these “wallowers in the dust” was most persistent. It began as far back as the time of Abraham and continued until the accession to the throne of David, the man after God’s own heart, when we see the Philistines subdued at last under the people of God (2 Sam. 5. 17-25 and 8. 1). Let us consider the lessons this Old Testament record of these conflicts of the Lord’s people with the Philistines have to convey to us. Is it not written in connection with the history of Israel that: “All these things happened for ensamples : and they are written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world (‘ages’) are come (1 Cor. 10. 11)”?
“And Jonathan smote the garrison of the Philistines that was in Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, ‘Let the Hebrews hear.’ And all Israel heard that Saul had smitten a garrison of the Philistines, and that Israel also was had in abomination with the Philistines” (1 Sam. 13. 3, 4).
The portion of Scripture we are now to consider opens with the account of an attack by Jonathan, the son of Saul, upon a garrison of the Philistines, and the enmity provoked thereby. The New Translation by J. N. D. reads : “Israel also had become odious to the Philistines.”
The hatred of these foes was aroused and they gathered themselves together for battle (verse 5). They had a large and well-equipped force, and crossed the border to fight with the people of God.
“Israel was had in abomination with the Philistines” – This indicates plainly the real attitude of the world towards the people of God. We may well ponder the words of. the Lord Jesus to His own in that last, long farewell talk in the upper room before He suffered. His words were a prophecy revealing just what His followers might expect from the world : “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own : but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15. 18, 19).
Consider further these words of James and let us lay them to heart: “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4. 4).
John also has some weighty words to say upon this subject of the Christian’s relations with the world : “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2. 15-17). “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God : therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not” (1 John 3. 1).
In his Epistle to the Romans Paul gives this earnest exhortation to believers : “And be not conformed to this world : but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12. 2.)
Do our habits of life and speech proclaim us to be of the world or those whose citizenship is in heaven? Do we make it manifest that through our attachment and devotion to Christ, whose appearing we love and long for, we have been detached from the world? Are we recognized in our daily life and in our daily walk as belonging to the world, or does the world ignore us and refuse to acknowledge us even as it refused to acknowledge our Lord (John 1. 10, 11 and 1 John 3. 1, 2)? If we are indeed the children of God and live as such, make no mistake about it, the world will not want to recognize us. This is a practical truth and we must be practical in dealing with it.
As the Philistine forces now came up to do battle with Israel they were greatly superior in numbers, whilst the forces of Israel were a mere feeble handful in comparison. What will Israel now do? How will they meet this perilous situation? The smallness of their numbers was not their greatest disadvantage or weakness, as we shall see. God could reduce the army of Israel under Gideon to a mere 300 men, and with them utterly rout the superior numbers of the Midianites (Judges 7. 7 and 19-25). Was not the divine promise definite : “And five of you shall chase an .hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight: and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword” (Lev. 26. 7, 8 and see Deut. 32. 29, 30)?
The bold attack by Jonathan upon their garrison or stronghold united’ the Philistines as one man against Israel (verse 5), but it had the opposite effect upon the people of God.
The men of faith and courage among the people of God were in a very small minority. There was a serious lack of determination to face their foes on the part of the men of Israel (see 1 Sam. 13. 6, 7), and this is enlightening as to the effect of years of backsliding and departure from God. Spiritual courage and strength had been sapped, and in the place of men of vigour and initiative, bold to stand against all the encroachments of the enemy and to carry the war to their gates, we have a company of spineless, timid men, all too anxious to secure a hiding-place from the enemy and to evade the conflict at all costs. The wars of the Lord are not fought and won by men of this character.
It will be seen that the men of Israel were disunited and scattered into little groups of refugees. “When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait (for the people were distressed) then the people did hide themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high places, and in pits. And some of the Hebrews went over Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. As for Saul, he was yet in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.”
These have their counterpart among Christians today.
(1) Many just went into any hiding-hole they could find – caves, thickets, rocks, high places and pits. What a sorry spectacle they displayed! Even their foes made sport of these poor, faint-hearted followers of the king.
These men who sought hiding-places for themselves dared not face the foe, and so in the day of battle they quitted the field ingloriously. They were like the 7,000 secret believers in Elijah’s day who had not bowed the knee to Baal, but who lacked the moral courage to take their stand by the side of God’s lonely servant, Elijah. So they left it to that heroic man of God to face alone the many prophets of Baal and challenge their power. It is the ‘stickers’ and not the ‘quitters’ who do exploits for God, and who overcome and rout the enemies of the people of God.
(2) Some of the Hebrews went over the Jordan to escape from the Philistines (verse 7). They selfishly considered, first of all, their own comfort and safety, and had little concern for those they left behind to meet the dreaded foe. They did not attempt to stand and face the enemy. They sought safety in flight and rested not until they had put the Jordan between them and the Philistine ravagers.
(3) Those who were left to follow the king, did so with “trembling” and even these were scattering from him (1 Sam. 13. 7, 8 and 11). This would surely indicate lack of confidence in themselves and their leader, and they had good reason to fear the issue under such a leader as Saul. Their morale was gone. How could such faint-hearted men triumph over their more-aggressive Philistine foes? History repeats itself. Many in our day are like these faint-hearts in Saul’s day. They too feel unequal to the conflict, and would fain avoid contending for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. They would do almost anything rather than make a bold and determined stand against the onslaughts and encroachments of the enemies of the truth, so they hide their testimony at the very time when they should be most prominently out-and-out for God. They go into hiding. They will not declare themselves. They prefer not to take sides, or else are wanting to make some kind of compromise. Others, alas, are like the Israelites who fled over the Jordan, who leave the fighting of the Lord’s battles to the few who choose to face the enemy. They themselves will take no part in it. They have no desire to fight, not even to defend the right, and would risk the loss of precious truth rather than fight for it. Others there are, like the people who followed their king. They are in the fight but with little heart for it, and they follow trembling.
But where do we stand in this conflict with the world and the enemies of the truth? Alas, that so many of the Lord’s redeemed are rendered powerless because of compromise with earthly things! How subtle is the enemy! How many and varied are his devices to ensnare the people of God! How few seem able to detect and escape from his wily ways! How few can say – ‘We are not ignorant of his devices’ (2 Cor. 2. 11).
Two men, Jonathan and his armour-bearer, stood apart from the rest of the people by their evident courage and faith in God. It is refreshing to observe the courageous attitude of Jonathan and his confidence in God as indicated in the words he addressed to his young attendant: “And Jonathan said to the young man that bore his armour, Come, and let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised : it may be that the Lord will work for us, for there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few” (1 Sam. 14. 6).
Jonathan’s armour-bearer was evidently a man of like spirit with his master, for he replied : “Do all that is in thine heart: turn thee; behold, I am with thee according to thy heart” (1 Sam. 14. 7).
Brave words were followed by daring deeds. Their venture of faith was well rewarded. The enemy were unable to stand before them, and a notable victory was achieved that day. The stand made by these two noble souls even drew the Israelites, who had hidden themselves, into the battle (1 Sam. 14. 21-23). The courage of these two men was infectious, and inspired even the laggards with a desire not to be left out of the conflict, belated though their appearance was. Oh, that God would give us in this day men of a like mind and heart with Jonathan and his armour-bearer!
(This article will be concluded in the next issue)