One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament has to be in First Samuel chapter 13 and 14. In this passage, Saul has just become the first king of Israel and his first act as king is to muster an army. He pulls together this army of 3,000 men and takes 2,000, and sends a thousand to be with his son Jonathan.
To call these soldiers is a bit of a stretch. They weren’t equipped, they weren’t trained, in fact, in the entire Israelite army only Saul and Jonathan had weapons and armor. The rest of these were equipped with farm tools, and even those farm tools they had to take to their enemies, the Philistines, to get them sharpened because the Philistines controlled all the metallurgy.
To call them an army may be a bit of an overstatement. Jonathan took his 1,000 men and he went and attacked the Philistines. That probably wasn’t a good idea. They became upset. They mustered their army, thirty thousand chariots, six thousand horsemen, and soldiers like the sand on the seashore.
Saul and Jonathan brought their men together. The only problem was most of them saw what was happening. They got scared, so most of them either hid themselves in caves and pits, and holes in the ground, or they crossed the Jordan River to flee into the hill country of Ephraim, or they went as traitors to be with the Philistines, leaving a total of 600 men with Saul and Jonathan.
They gathered under the pomegranate tree near the town of Migron and they waited. I believe these 600 were men of faith, believing that either somehow God could deliver them, or that at least it was a cause worth dying for. But one man distinguished himself.
Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “ Let’s show ourselves to the Philistine outpost, if they call us up, it will be a sign for us that God has delivered them into our hands, for God is not limited to save whether by many or by few.”
His armor-bearer said, “ I’m with you heart and soul, do everything you say.”
So they showed themselves to the outpost.
The Philistine said, “Look, the Hebrews are coming out from the holes where they’ve hidden themselves. Come up here, we’ll teach you a lesson.”
That’s what Jonathan was waiting for. He and his armor-bearer scaled the cliff there, and the two of them killed 20 Philistine soldiers within half an acre of ground – a mighty act of valor to be sure, but in the larger scheme of things, meaningless. When God saw Jonathan’s faith, God intervened. He sent an earthquake in the Philistine camp, and the soldiers began to panic, and it says the Philistine army began to melt away.
Saul meanwhile, under the pomegranate tree, noticed this huge force just melting away and realized something was up. He numbered the men and realized Jonathan and his armor-bearer were gone. He eventually got around to calling the rest of those 600 to join in the pursuit.
Jonathan’s faith was contagious, first to his armor-bearer and then to the 600, and then even beyond that, because then those who had hidden themselves or across the river, or gone as traders, they came and turned and started pursuing the Philistines even though they had been cowards.
The Philistines began to strike one another down in their panic so that a great battle was won that day. As the battle spread beyond the town of Beth Aven, the Israelites regained a huge amount of territory.
I love that story, it’s inspiring. Jonathan’s faith, his contagious faith, his expectant thing that was qualitatively different than those men even that had faith standing under the pomegranate tree – that is inspiring, stories of faith are always inspiring.
Hebrews 11 is about people of faith like that. The author is telling stories like this of heroes of the faith and then he comes down in verse 32 and begins to summarize.
He says, “ What more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword; became mighty in war; put foreign armies to fly. Women received back their dead by resurrection.”
These are the stories we love. The great victories – the good guy wins. I just wish that the author had stopped there. Sometimes when I’m reading , it’s like, I don’t want to read past verse 35. It was so good.
The author of Hebrews continues and the tone changes completely.
“Others were tortured not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection. Others experienced mocking and scourgings – yes also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were tempted; they were put to death with the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill treated, men of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and caves and holes in the ground.”
That isn’t quite so much fun to read. Why did the good guys lose; why did they suffer; why are they killed in all of these ways; why do they suffer want? I thought these were men of faith and women of faith but they are in the Hall of Faith here in Hebrews 11.
Evidently what gets you into the Hall of Faith is not whether you see great victories, or not. It’s something else. You see all of these people have the faith of, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael, also called Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. You remember when Nebuchadnezzar built that huge statue of himself, and he had all of his subjects bow to worship it, and they refused.
Nebuchadnezzar became angry and heated a furnace, much hotter than usual and threatened to throw them in if they would not worship his idol.
They said, “Our God is able to deliver us from the flames oh King, but even if he doesn’t, we will not bow down to your idol.”
So he threw them in and God rescued them for his glory. Some of these other people in Hebrews 11:35 to 38 had the same faith, took the same risks, were ready to make the same sacrifices, and for some reason God saw not to deliver them for his glory. You see, he’s glorified either way. He’s glorified by miraculous deliverance or miraculous victory. He’s also glorified in the willingness of his followers to risk everything – to sacrifice everything for his sake.
That is what gets you in the Hall of Faith – your willingness to risk it all, to sacrifice it all. God will determine whether or not he wants there to be a miraculous deliverance.
How it turns out in this life is irrelevant in terms of his glory, in terms of his kingdom. The good news is, we’re assured in eternity of abundant reward as we relate to the Lord in paradise for eternity. In this life, there are no guarantees. In this life, what God is looking for is people who are willing to risk and sacrifice everything for his sake, and that is what glorifies him and pleases him. That is the kind of disciple God delights to multiply.
If we exhibit this kind of expectant faith, not based on the physical situation, but on God’s ability, on God’s reputation, we look not at the things on earth but at the things in heaven where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. This is how we are disciples worth reproducing, because God loves to multiply that kind of faith, just as he did in Jonathan’s case to the 600, to the 3,000, and then even to his enemies – it’s a contagious faith.
We see examples of this throughout scripture. The 12 spies, the 10 looked just at the great walled cities and the Giants.
Joshua and Caleb said, “Yes, we see those things but God has promised us this land and he is certainly able to give it to us. We should go take it right now.”
They were not merely looking at the physical situation, but also at the spiritual realities. We could look at the same thing with Elijah, with Peter in the New Testament, when he’s walking on water.
“Lord if that’s you, call me to come to you.”
Jesus says, ”yeah come,” so Peters walking on the water with his eyes fixed on Jesus, but then he looked at the wind in the waves and immediately he began to sink. We must focus not on things on the earth, but things in heaven, spiritual realities, so that we might live lives of faith, willing to sacrifice everything in this life for the sake of God’s glory in eternity.
This is a kind of faith, this is the kind of disciple God delights to multiply.
Bonhoeffer said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
God will see his kingdom grown and expanded, either way our job is to be ready, to be willing for his sake.