Picture a solitary military outpost overlooking an arid and craggy landscape. The Philistine soldiers posted there have found something of interest in the monotonous view: Two men, Israelites, are standing in plain sight across the ravine. The soldiers are amused—they see no threat there. The Philistines have long dominated the Israelites, who cannot even get their metal farm implements sharpened without going to their Philistine enemies for help. Israelite soldiers are thus poorly armed. Furthermore, these are only two men! Even if they were armed warriors, what harm could they possibly do? Sneering, the Philistines call out: “Come up to us, and we will teach you a lesson!”—1 Samuel 13:19-23; 14:11, 12.
In fact, a lesson was in the making, but those Philistines would find themselves on the receiving end of it. The two Israelites ran down the ravine, crossed it, and then began climbing up the near side. It was so steep that they had to use their hands and feet, but they kept coming, scrambling over the rocks, heading straight toward the outpost! (1 Samuel 14:13) The Philistines could now see that the man taking the lead was armed; his armor-bearer followed. But was he actually leading a two-man attack on an entire garrison? Was the man mad?
He was not mad; he was a man of great faith. His name was Jonathan, and his story is alive with lessons for true Christians today. Though we do not engage in physical warfare, we can learn a great deal from Jonathan about the courage, loyalty, and selflessness that we need in order to build genuine faith.—Isaiah 2:4; Matthew 26:51, 52.
Loyal Son and Brave Soldier
To understand why Jonathan charged against that outpost, we need to look at his background. Jonathan was the eldest son of Saul, the first king of Israel. When Saul was anointed as king, Jonathan was already a man, perhaps 20 years of age or even older. It seems that Jonathan maintained a close bond with his father, who would often confide in his son. In those early days, Jonathan knew his father not only as a tall, handsome man and courageous warrior but also as something much more important—a man of faith and humility. Jonathan could see why Jehovah chose Saul to be king. Even the prophet Samuel said that there was no one like Saul in the land!—1 Samuel 9:1, 2, 21; 10:20-24; 20:2.
Jonathan must have felt honored to fight under his father’s command against the enemies of Jehovah’s people. Those wars were not like the nationalistic clashes of today. Back then, Jehovah chose the nation of Israel to represent him, and it was under constant attack by nations that worshipped false gods. The Philistines, corrupted by the worship of such gods as Dagon, often tried to oppress or even destroy Jehovah’s chosen people.
For men like Jonathan, then, fighting was a matter of loyal service to Jehovah God. And Jehovah blessed Jonathan’s efforts. Soon after Saul became king, he appointed his son to command 1,000 soldiers, and Jonathan led them to attack a Philistine garrison at Geba. Poorly armed though his men were, with Jehovah’s help Jonathan won the day. In response, however, the Philistines amassed a huge force. Many of Saul’s soldiers were terrified. Some ran off and hid, and a few even switched sides! But Jonathan’s courage never faded.—1 Samuel 13:2-7; 14:21.
On the day described at the outset, Jonathan decided to slip away with only his armor-bearer at his side. As they approached the Philistine outpost at Michmash, Jonathan revealed his plan to his armor-bearer. They would show themselves plainly to the Philistine soldiers up there. If the Philistines challenged the two of them to come on up against them, this would be a sign that Jehovah would help his servants. The armor-bearer readily agreed, perhaps moved by Jonathan’s powerful words: “Nothing can hinder Jehovah from saving by many or by few.” (1 Samuel 14:6-10) What did he mean?
Jonathan evidently knew his God well. He no doubt knew that in the past, Jehovah had helped his people defeat enemies who vastly outnumbered them. Sometimes He had even used a single individual to bring victory. (Judges 3:31; 4:1-23; 16:23-30) So Jonathan knew that it was neither the numbers nor the strength nor the weaponry of God’s servants that mattered; it was their faith. In faith, then, Jonathan let Jehovah determine whether he and his armor-bearer should attack the outpost; he chose a sign by which Jehovah could signal approval. With that approval secured, Jonathan fearlessly forged ahead.
Note two facets of Jonathan’s faith. First, he had profound awe for his God, Jehovah. He knew that God Almighty does not depend on human strength in order to accomplish his purposes, yet Jehovah delights in blessing faithful humans who serve him. (2 Chronicles 16:9) Second, Jonathan sought evidence of Jehovah’s approval before he took action. Today, we do not seek supernatural signs from our God in order to verify that he approves of our course of action. With the entire inspired Word of God at hand, we have all we need in order to discern God’s will. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) Do we consult the Bible carefully before making important decisions? If so, we show that we care about God’s will more than our own—much like Jonathan.
So the two men, warrior and armor-bearer, charged up the steep slope toward the outpost. The Philistines, finally realizing that they were under attack, sent men out to fight off the two invaders. The Philistines had not only the superior numbers but also the advantage of holding the higher ground, so they should have been able to make short work of two attackers. But Jonathan struck down one soldier after another. Behind him, the armor-bearer put them to death. In just a small patch of ground, the two men dispatched 20 enemy soldiers! And Jehovah did something further. We read: “Then terror spread in the field camp and among all the people of the outpost, and even the raiding parties were terrified. The earth began quaking, and a terror from God ensued.”—1 Samuel 14:15.
From a distance, Saul and his men watched as chaos and panic spread among the Philistines, who even began to turn against one another! (1 Samuel 14:16, 20) The Israelites took courage and attacked, perhaps taking weapons from the fallen Philistines. Jehovah gave his people a great victory that day. And he has not changed since those exciting times. If we today put faith in him, as did Jonathan and his unnamed armor-bearer, we will never have reason to regret our choice.—Malachi 3:6; Romans 10:11.
“It Was With God That He Acted”
For Saul, that victory did not turn out as well as it did for Jonathan. Saul had made some grave mistakes. He disobeyed Jehovah’s appointed prophet Samuel by offering a sacrifice that the prophet, who was also a Levite, was supposed to offer. When Samuel arrived, he told Saul that because of such disobedience, his kingdom would not last. Then, when Saul sent his men into battle, he first put them under an ill-advised oath: “Cursed is the man who eats any food before the evening and until I have taken vengeance on my enemies!”—1 Samuel 13:10-14; 14:24.
Saul’s words hint at a sad change in the man. Was the humble, spiritual man becoming an ambitious egotist? After all, Jehovah never directed that such an unreasonable restriction be put on those brave, hardworking soldiers. And what about Saul’s words “until I have taken vengeance on my enemies”—do they suggest that Saul thought that this war was all about him? Was he forgetting that it was Jehovah’s justice that mattered and not Saul’s hunger for vengeance, glory, or conquest?
Jonathan knew nothing about his father’s ill-conceived oath. Exhausted from the heated battle, he dipped his staff into a honeycomb and tasted some honey; he immediately felt his strength revive. Then one of his men told him about his father’s prohibition against eating. Jonathan responded: “My father has brought great trouble on the land. Look at how my eyes brightened because I tasted this little bit of honey. How much better if the people had eaten freely today from the spoil of their enemies that they found! For then the slaughter of the Philistines would have been even greater.” (1 Samuel 14:25-30) He was right. Jonathan was a loyal son, but his loyalty was not blind. He did not mindlessly agree with everything his father did or said, and that balanced view earned the respect of others.
When Saul learned that Jonathan had violated the ban, he still refused to see the folly of his command. Instead, he actually believed that his own son should be put to death! Jonathan did not argue or beg for mercy. Note his remarkable reply. He selflessly said: “Here I am! I am ready to die!” However, the Israelites spoke up: “Should Jonathan die—the one who brought this great victory to Israel? It is unthinkable! As surely as Jehovah is alive, not even a single hair of his head should fall to the ground, for it was with God that he acted this day.” The result? Saul gave in to reason. The account says: “With that the people rescued Jonathan, and he did not die.”—1 Samuel 14:43-45.
Through his courage, hard work, and selfless spirit, Jonathan had built a good reputation. When he was in danger, his reputation came to his aid. We do well to contemplate the name, or reputation, that we are making for ourselves day by day. The Bible tells us that a good name is very precious. (Ecclesiastes 7:1) If, like Jonathan, we take care to make a good name with Jehovah, our reputation will be a great treasure.
A Growing Darkness
Despite Saul’s faults, Jonathan kept fighting loyally at his father’s side through the years. We can only imagine his dismay as he saw his father develop a disobedient and proud spirit. A darkness was growing in his father, and Jonathan was powerless to stop it.
The problem came to a head when Jehovah assigned Saul to wage war against the Amalekites, a people so immersed in wickedness that back in Moses’ day, Jehovah had foretold the destruction of the entire nation. (Exodus 17:14) Saul was told to destroy all their livestock and to execute their king, Agag. Saul won the battle, no doubt with Jonathan fighting bravely under his father’s command as usual. But Saul flagrantly disobeyed Jehovah, sparing Agag and keeping the wealth, the livestock, intact. The prophet Samuel pronounced Jehovah’s final judgment on Saul: “Because you have rejected the word of Jehovah, he has rejected you from being king.”—1 Samuel 15:2, 3, 9, 10, 23.
It was not long thereafter that Jehovah withdrew his holy spirit from Saul. Without Jehovah’s loving influence, Saul was subject to wild mood swings, fits of temper, and overwhelming fears. It was as if a bad spirit from God had replaced the good one. (1 Samuel 16:14; 18:10-12) How it must have distressed Jonathan to see his once noble father so terribly changed! Nonetheless, Jonathan never swerved from his loyal service to Jehovah. He supported his father as best he could, even speaking to him quite frankly at times, but he kept his focus on his unchanging God and Father, Jehovah.—1 Samuel 19:4, 5.
Have you ever watched someone you love, perhaps a close family member, change drastically for the worse? It can be a profoundly painful experience. Jonathan’s example reminds us of what the psalmist later wrote: “Even if my own father and mother abandon me, Jehovah himself will take me in.” (Psalm 27:10) Jehovah is loyal. He will take you in too and be the best Father imaginable, no matter what imperfect humans may do to disappoint you or let you down.
Jonathan likely learned that Jehovah intended to take the kingship away from Saul. How did Jonathan react? Did he ever wonder what kind of ruler he might prove to be? Did he cherish hopes of righting some of his father’s wrongs, setting a better example as a loyal and obedient king? We do not know his inner thoughts; we only know that any such hopes were never to be realized. Does this mean that Jehovah abandoned that faithful man? On the contrary, he used Jonathan to set one of the greatest examples of loyal friendship contained in the entire Bible record! That friendship will be the focus of a further article on Jonathan.