thoughts gathered from writings of JND
I have been happy and blessed in writing in French on l Samuel since I have been here. One ever learns more, and learns it everywhere, that all is spoiled here below; Ichabod is written on the relations of God Himself with the world, at least, of men with Him. But then one finds that faith finds its way through all. Jonathan could act, and David could suffer, and acting with an energy that had no equal, silence it when the divine instinct of the Spirit's leading shewed him the way, and retire towards God, instead of being driven from His presence by evil, or revenging himself when an opportunity occurred. The fear of God is a very remarkable element in the power of faith in his character; and in what a touching way God came to his help in the case of Nabal. Abigail had got further into intelligence of the ways of God, it appears to me, than Jonathan; the latter is a remnant more purely Jewish: he does not suffer with David, whereas Abigail apprehended his position. Saul is only a man in her eyes, and she takes part in his (David's) sufferings; when God has judged Nabal she has much more the character of the remnant which becomes the church.
Let us remark here that there is faith in Jonathan. The flesh, placed in the position of leader to God's people, follows indeed the impulse given by faith, but does not possess it; and the word Hebrews, the name by which a Philistine would have called the people, indicates that Saul relied on the gathering of the nation as a constituted body, and understood no better than a Philistine would have done the relation between a chosen people and God. And this is the position set before us in the history of Saul. It is not premeditated opposition to God, but the flesh set in a place of testimony and used in accomplishing God's work. We see in it a person linked with the interests of God's true people, doing the work of God according to the people's idea of their need—a true idea as to their actual need; but he is one who seeks his resources in the energy of man, an energy to which God does not refuse His aid when there is obedience to His will, for He loves His people; but which in principle, in moral and inward motive, can never of itself go beyond the flesh from which it springs. In the midst of all this faith can act, and act sincerely, and this is Jonathan's case. God will bless this faith, and He always does so, because it owns Him; and in this instance (and it is His gift) because it sincerely seeks the good of God's people.
All this is, in principle, a kind of picture of the professing church, which in this point of view anticipates the true reign of Christ, and in this position even fails in her faithfulness to God. True faith, in the midst of such a system, never rises so high as the glory of the coming One, the true rejected David, but it loves Him and cleaves to Him. If the church is merely professing, she persecutes Christ; but that in her which acts by faith loves and owns Him, even when He is hunted like a partridge on the mountains.
Jonathan having thus in faith attacked the Philistines, Saul, who ostensibly leads the people before God, is put to the proof. Will he shew himself competent? Will he remember the true principle on which the blessing of the people rests? Will he act as a royal priest, or will he acknowledge the prophet to be the true link of faith between the people and God—a link the importance and necessity of which he ought to have recognised, since he owed to it his present place and power, and it had proved to him its own mission and prophetic authority by establishing his? When the critical moment arrives, Saul fails.
The difficulties are not lessened. The Philistines are in garrison, and their camp situated in a place of unusually difficult access, a narrow pathway up perpendicular rocks being the only means of approach. The Philistines were there in great number, and well armed. But it is hard for faith to endure the oppression of God's people by the enemy, and the dishonour thus done to God Himself. Jonathan endures it not. Where does he seek for strength? His thoughts are simple. The Philistines are uncircumcised; they have not the help of the God of Israel. "There is no restraint to Jehovah to save by many or by few"; and this is the thought of Jonathan's faith, that fair flower which God caused to blossom in the wilderness of Israel at this sorrowful moment. He does not think about himself. Jehovah, says he, has delivered them up to Israel. He trusts in God, and in His unfailing faithfulness towards His people: his heart rests in this (See the same proofs of faith in David, when he went out against Goliath) and he does not imagine for an instant that God is not with His people, whatever their condition may be. This characterises faith. It not only acknowledges that God is great, but it recognises the indissoluble bond (indissoluble because it is of God) between God and His people. The consequence is, that faith forgets circumstances, or rather nullifies them. God is with His people. He is not with their enemies. All the rest is but an opportunity of proving the real dependence of faith. Thus, there is no boasting in Jonathan; his expectation is from God. He goes out and meets the Philistines. He is there a witness for God. If they are bold enough to come down, he will wait for them and not create difficulties for himself, but he will not turn away from those which meet him in his path. The indolent and at the same time foolish and imprudent confidence of the enemy is but a sign to Jonathan that Jehovah has delivered them up. Had they come down, they would have lost their advantage; in bidding him come up, they set aside the insurmountable difficulty of access to the camp. Happy in having a faithful companion in his work of faith, Jonathan seeks no other assistance. He does not talk of the Hebrews; but he says, "Jehovah has delivered them up into the hand of Israel." He climbs the rock with his armour-bearer. And in truth Jehovah was with him; the Philistines fall before Jonathan, and his armour-bearer slays after him. But while honouring the arm which faith had strengthened, God manifests Himself. The dread of God took hold of the Philistines, and everything trembles before the man whom faith (God's precious gift) had led into action.
Chapter 18. Jonathan recalls to my mind the remnant of Israel. He loves David with all his heart; but he had not followed him. Chapter 23: 16-18 tells us what Jonathan was. Abigail represents much more the faith of the church. In the tribulation of Jesus the remnant does not take part with Him, whereas Abigail follows him everywhere. Although he is rejected, she calls him Lord, whilst Saul is to her only a man. She has intelligence. She judges Nabal, although the judgment was not yet executed. She becomes the wife of David in the desert; thus it is with the church. When David was with Achish, he was in a sad state—a servant of God, who said he had done evil to the people of God, in order to be well with the world!
They said of David, the Lord is with him. They expected much from him, but nothing came. One must follow for a long time the path of faith.
JONATHAN: A WORD ON WORKING WITH GOD
1 SAMUEL 14.
In the doings of Jonathan, we get energy of faith in the midst of sad confusion in Israel. The people of God had sought in a carnal way to establish themselves against their enemies. A people of no faith to lean immediately upon God, they had asked for themselves a king; and whilst testifying to His own rejection by them, God had instructed Samuel to hearken unto their voice in all that they said, and make them a king (chap. 8). "Give us a king, to judge us like all the nations," their cry, as again (even after the prophet had warned them as to consequences, in accordance with the divine testimony), "Nay, but we will have a king over us; that we may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles"; the carnal desire is met, and Saul set up to war against Israel's enemies.
Such is the state of things in the midst of which we find Jonathan. And though he enters not into the full mind of God, he is able to act in the energy of faith, It is hard for faith to endure the afflictions of God's people, and the dishonour done in it to God Himself. Jonathan endures it not. He has faith in the God of Israel, and he makes up his mind to attack the Philistines. He calls to his armour-bearer, and says, "Come let us go over unto the Philistines' garrison, that is on the other side," v. 1. The sin of the people of God may have subjected them to the power of the "uncircumcised," but this cannot subject the rights of God. Such is faith's reasoning. And nothing is more simple. The moment there is separation unto God, a standing with Him, there is zeal for God and strength in His service. But he confers not with flesh and blood, "he told not his father." There was no faith in Saul; and had he consulted him, Saul would most probably only have discouraged—with faith he would have gone himself. He would either have stopped or hampered him; when he does act, it is only to trouble. Faith has to act on its own responsibility. One way in which we very constantly fail is in asking counsel of those who have not the faith or the light we ourselves have; we thus sink down to their level.
All that could give authority, or accredit it, in the eyes of the people religiously too, was with Saul. The king, the priest, the ark were all there. But Jonathan waits not for the people. He has none but his armour-bearer with him; and so much the better for him, for he is not troubled with the unbelief of others. Where there is a single eye, there is ever confidence in acting and not hesitation. The flesh may be confident, but its confidence is in self, and therefore only folly. Faith makes nothing of circumstances, because it makes God all. It is not that difficulties in themselves are lessened, but that God fills the eye.
The Philistines' position is a strong one amidst precipitous rocks: what could human energy avail? Jonathan has to climb up upon his hands and feet (v. 13). The oppressors too are there in great numbers, and well armed. But faith with a single sword counts God sufficient. "Come," is the unhesitating word, "let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised: it may be that Jehovah will work for us," v. 6. The uncircumcised "have no strength when looked at thus they have not the God of Jacob for their help: their hope is not in Jehovah. Little matter as to the condition of His people, if He be with them: "there is no restraint to Jehovah to save by many or by few." The enemy may be as the sand on the sea shore for multitude: that is nothing—and faith knows it. He can give strength to one sword to subdue a host.
Jonathan seeks not other help. Happy in his companion, a man of a kindred spirit (his answer bearing him the witness "Do all that is in thine heart; turn thee, behold I am with thee according to thy heart," v. 7), he at once discovers himself to the Philistines (v. 8).
We have already remarked on the strong simple confidence of Jonathan in Jehovah's power. Another thing that characterises his faith is the consciousness of the impossibility of the link between God and His people being broken. Sad as the condition of that people is—the Philistines in power in their midst, pillaging a defenceless land; no means of resistance left to them, not a sword or a spear (except with Saul and with Jonathan) found in Israel (chap. 13 : 19, 22); the very king they have in their midst, one they have sinned in setting up—this touches not His faithfulness. The Philistines are delivered into the hand of Israel (not into his own) in the judgment of the man of faith (v. 12). In isolating itself with God, faith identifies itself with His people. It loses sight of self, passes over their desolations, and recognizes all that is theirs in God. Jonathan is as Jehovah's hand. And see what boldness! Though Israel be not able to sharpen a mattock, in the name of the God of hosts, Jehovah, God of Israel, he goes straight on his way.
But then, whilst he goes forward thus, conferring not with flesh and blood, there is nothing of boastfulness, no acting in fleshly haste and excitement. His expectation is from God. He can discover himself plainly to the garrison of the Philistines, telling them as it were, "Here am I, an Israelite"; but he will wait and see;—if they say, 'Tarry until we come to you,' he will stand in his place, and will not go up to them. But if they say, 'Come up unto us,' he will go up; Jehovah hath delivered them into their hand. There is to be the sign (v. 9, 10). In other words he will wait for them to come to him, or he will go and throw himself into the midst of their camp, just as Jehovah may bid. He will not make difficulties for himself; but he will not turn away from difficulties which meet him in the path. His is the real dependence of faith.
Having done this, the very haughtiness and scorn of the hostile power instruct him as to what to do. "Behold," say the men of the garrison one to another, "the Hebrews come forth out of the holes where they had hid themselves"; and then indolently and with fleshly confidence taunt these true Israelites, "Come up, and we will shew you a thing!" v. 12. It is the sign for Jonathan; "Jehovah hath delivered them into the hand of Israel."
In the energy of faith he goes forward and climbs the rock, his armour-bearer following. The Philistines fall before him; it is comparatively easy work for the armour-bearer to slay after him. The power that inspires Jonathan acts for him. Jehovah is really there; He uses Jonathan as an instrument, He puts honour upon the arm faith has strengthened, but He manifests Himself. The terror of God falls upon the enemies of Israel (v. 13, 15).
But what of Saul? He has been left tarrying under a pomegranate-tree in Migron, whilst God is triumphing over the Philistines through Jonathan (v. 2). "And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked, and behold the multitude melted away, and they went on beating down one another. Then said Saul unto the people that were with him, Number now, and see who is gone from us," v. 16, 17. All that is regular as to form is with Israel, but not faith. "And when they had numbered, behold, Jonathan and his armour-bearer were not there." That is all they know about it.
"And Saul said unto Ahiah, Bring hither the ark of God," v. 18. Here again there is form—the form of honouring Jehovah in seeking His guidance. It seems all right, yet it is but the form. (God, if we may so speak, has left with Jonathan.) Saul will have the ark brought; but while he talks with the priest, the tumult of defeat in the host of the Philistines still going on and increasing, he bids him stop; "Withdraw," he says, "thine hand," v.19. There is no simplicity of dependence upon God, but the uncertainty and bewilderment of unbelief.
Saul was raised up to put down the Philistines; Jonathan did subdue them, but never Saul who was destroyed by them. Jonathan was a believer associated with the outward order. The place of faith was with David. It is the place of the power of faith without the king.
At last (chap. 28) Saul is in the sad, terrible condition, that Jehovah has departed from him. The day comes when he has to sink down with the consciousness of not having the answer of Jehovah, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. All depart from him, and are with the suffering man who had nothing here. Then Saul falls, Jonathan falls, and David takes the kingdom. And now we come to a sad picture; we see a different line of conduct in David.
What marks his confidence as king in his own house? He trusts in his own power. "I dwell in an house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains"; he is going to build the temple when he had no word from Jehovah to do it. The thing itself is not bad which he purposes, but he has not the perception of the mind of Jehovah about it, because he has not consulted, he has not waited upon Him. We find in him now the want of that direct reference to Jehovah which had so marked his previous course, he trusts in his own strength, lives in self-indulgence, and then falls into gross sin.
Self-will having come in, self-indulgence follows; then there is the breaking out of positive sin in the murder of Uriah, and adultery with Bath-sheba: and afterwards distrust of Jehovah, in the numbering of the people!