Faith & Courage

A Character Study of Jonathan from I Samuel 14

By Nate Wilson


What is it that makes a man courageous?


What the World says

If we take our cue from Madison Avenue, we might believe that smoking Marlboroughs or driving a SUV is what makes a man strong. If we look to the TV, we might believe that conquering a beautiful woman or beating another man in brute strength or cunning is the essence of courage. If we listen to modern business consultants and psychologists, we hear that courage comes from within—all you need is good self-esteem; believe in yourself and you can do anything!


What God says

I want to tell you that all those things will fail you. Owning more toys will never give you true courage. Conquering another person has nothing to do with manhood. And when you look inside yourself all you are going to get is more of who you already are—a sinful human being. These are not the way to find courage. Courage comes from a different source—from God. More specifically, we must exercise Biblical faith in God to find true courage.


In the Bible, when God spoke to His man at the beginning of the book of Joshua, what did He say, “Be strong and of good courage, be not afraid, neither be dismayed... for if you look deep into yourself, and believe in yourself, you will find the strength to carry on?!?!” NO! “…For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go!” FOR THE LORD YOUR GOD It is Biblical faith in God that gives a man strength and courage!


Introducing Jonathan

Let’s turn to First Samuel chapter 14 and look at a paragon of manliness in the Bible. This man had incredible courage. He was a warrior par excellence. He had amazing self-discipline. He was tough, and yet one of the things he is best known for is his loyalty in friendship. And this man had faith. First Samuel 14 gives us a brief glimpse into the life of a man named Jonathan.


The Plight of Israel

The context of this chapter is that Jonathan’s Dad, Saul, had just been crowned the first king of the country of Israel two years ago. (Use Map) Up until now, the country of Israel was a weak federation of tribes living up in the hills, surrounded by other nations who were more cruel and powerful than they were. The biggest problem at this time was a people called the Philistines who had migrated from a superior culture base in the area of Greece and spread out along the flat coastal land between the central mountains of Israel and the Mediterranean Sea. The Philistines were a more advanced civilization—they knew how to make superior weapons our of metal, and they also had horse-drawn chariots, things the Israelites didn’t have. Militarily, the Israelites were at a disadvantage, stuck with inferior weapons and slower modes of transportation. The Philistines, however, were worried about the unification of Israel under one king; they didn’t want a powerful, united kingdom right next-door, so they made persistent attempts to divide and weaken the Israelites whenever they made attempts at unity.


Philistine Battle Plan

Saul had made a quick trip from his capitol city of Gibeah to the nearby city of Gilgal, where the great prophet Samuel was going to offer a sacrifice. Saul had called the people of Israel to come and join him for this solemn occasion. This expression of national unity worried the Philistines, to they marched an army of 30,000 chariots, 6,000 horsemen, and more foot-soldiers than could be counted, straight through the middle of Israel and set up for battle at Michmash, fanning out across the middle of Israel to cut the Southern part of Israel off from the support of the Northern tribes. The only escape route was across the Jordan River in the other direction, and some people were doing just that. Others were finding hideouts in the caves along the Dead Sea coast. A few brave souls stuck with King Saul, but the Israelite army had only 600 men. They were dead meat!


So, this is the context of one of the most amazing exercises of courage in the entire Bible. Jonathan and his bodyguard challenge a whole Philistine garrison, and they end up demolishing them and turning the tide of the war! Notice what it is that Jonathan attributes this kind of courage to. What gave him the guts to take on a whole bunker full of Philistine warriors?


1st Samuel 14: 1-46 (NASB)

1 Now the day came that Jonathan, the son of Saul, said to the young man who was carrying his armor, "Come and let us cross over to the Philistines' garrison that is on yonder side." But he did not tell his father.


2 And Saul was staying in the outskirts of Gibeah under the pomegranate tree which is in Migron. And the people who were with him were about six hundred men, 3 and Ahijah, the son of Ahitub, Ichabod's brother, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the priest of the LORD at Shiloh, was wearing an ephod. And the people did not know that Jonathan had gone.


4 And between the passes by which Jonathan sought to cross over to the Philistines' garrison, there was a sharp crag on the one side, and a sharp crag on the other side, and the name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh. 5 The one crag rose on the north opposite Michmash, and the other on the south opposite Geba.


6 Then Jonathan said to the young man who was carrying his armor, "Come and let us cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; perhaps the LORD will work for us, for the LORD is not restrained to save by many or by few."


7 And his armor bearer said to him, "Do all that is in your heart; turn yourself, and here I am with you according to your desire."


8 Then Jonathan said, "Behold, we will cross over to the men and reveal ourselves to them. 9 If they say to us, 'Wait until we come to you'; then we will stand in our place and not go up to them. 10 But if they say, 'Come up to us,' then we will go up, for the LORD has given them into our hands; and this shall be the sign to us."


11 And when both of them revealed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines, the Philistines said, "Behold, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden themselves." 12 So the men of the garrison hailed Jonathan and his armor bearer and said, "Come up to us and we will tell you something." And Jonathan said to is armor bearer, "Come up after me, for the LORD has given them into the hands of Israel," 13 Then Jonathan climbed up on his hands and feet, with his armor bearer behind him; and they fell before Jonathan, and his armor bearer put some to death after him. 14 And that first slaughter which Jonathan and his armor bearer made was about twenty men within about half a furrow in an acre of land.


15 And there was a trembling in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. Even the garrison and the raiders trembled, and the earth quaked so that it became a great trembling (lit. “a trembling of God”).


16. Now Saul’s watchmen in Gibeah of Benjamin looked, and behold, the multitude melted away; and they went here and there. 17 And Saul said to the people who were with him, “Number now and see who had gone from us.” And when they had numbered, behold, Jonathan and his armor bearer were not there. 18 Then Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring the ark of God here. “ For the ark of God was at that time with the sons of Israel. 19 And it happened while Saul talked to the priest, that the commotion in the camp of the Philistines continued and increased; so Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand.”


20 Then Saul and all the people who were with him rallied and came to the battle; and behold, every man’s sword was against his fellow, and there was very great confusion. 21 Now the Hebrews who were with the Philistines previously, who went up with them all around in the camp, even they also turned to be with the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. 22 When all the men of Israel who had hidden themselves in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines had fled, even they also pursued them closely in the battle.23 So the LORD delivered Israel that day, and the battle spread beyond Beth-aven.


The Source of Jonathan’s Courage

Did you catch where it stated the source of Jonathan’s courage? Look at verse 6: "Come and let us cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; perhaps the LORD will work for us, for the LORD is not restrained to save by many or by few."


Jonathan’s faith in the LORD is what gave him the guts to face this superior group of armed Philistines. And it wasn’t just blind faith, It was faith in a Biblical truth about God—His sovereignty. The lack of any sort of “restraint” is unique to God. There is no one who can put restraints on God. He is totally unlimited in His power, unlimited in His knowledge—He can do whatever He pleases, and nothing can hold Him back. Jonathan knew that as long as he was doing the will of a sovereign God, he had nothing to fear.


The Source of Fear

Now, the opposite of courage is fear, and the root of fear is the awareness of your limitations in the face of potential harm. A child has no fear because he is not aware of his limitations and he is not aware of the harm that can be done to him. That is not courage; that is ignorance. Fear is when we know that there is someone or something which is more powerful than we are, and therefore can hurt us. We are naturally afraid of what is stronger than we are, and we try to protect ourselves from getting hurt by it. If an army is camped in the next valley that outnumbers your army 1000 to 1, it is natural to be afraid of their superior strength and technology and protect yourself by hiding. That’s what most of the Israelites were doing. If we know that a missionary crossing the ocean is likely to face death from a million things outside his control--tropical diseases, travel mishaps, linguistic misunderstandings, antagonistic natives, witch doctors, and evil spirits--our natural reaction is to protect ourselves from these dangers by staying home.


Jonathan’s Example of Courage

However, if we know—as Jonathan knew—that we are accompanied by a God who knows no limitations because He is totally sovereign over all the things that threaten us, if we know that such a God loves us and will be our constant companion as we carry out His will, then we lose all grounds for fear, just like Jonathan did. This is Biblical courage, when we can no longer be intimidated by the things of this world which stand against God’s will.


I Repeat, this is Biblical courage, when we can no longer be intimidated by the things of this world which stand against God’s will. Jonathan knew that the inferiority of His Israelite army was not a limitation for God, for God could save “by many or by few.” Jonathan knew that it was God’s will that he defend his nation and preserve the people of God - from whom would come the Messiah. He knew it was God’s will that Israel not be wiped out yet, and he knew that the inferiority of his Israelite army was not a restraining factor for the sovereign Lord, so he no longer had grounds to be afraid of the Philistine army; he went after them! God rewarded Jonathan and his bodyguard for their faith and courage and they wasted a whole outpost of Philistine soldiers!


Contrast with Saul

Now, back in the Israelite camp, Saul was not exercising this kind of Biblical faith, so he had no courage. He did not know God’s will, and he did not know God’s power, therefore he was afraid of the huge Philistine army that was threatening him. If you don’t know how powerful God is, and you’re not sure what He wants, then you will never have true courage.


Example of C.T. Studd

C.T. Studd was a famous British athlete around the turn of the century who took an amazing step of courage and faith to go to China and later Africa as a missionary, back when it was utterly foolhardy to do such a thing. There were no airplanes, no vaccines, no language training centers, no hostage mediation services, no telephones, none of that! The life expectancy of a missionary in Africa was less than 2 years. But Studd knew that it is God’s will that the Gospel be preached to the uttermost parts of the earth, and he knew that God’s power is limitless. Listen to what he said:


I am more than ever determined that no ring or limit shall be placed around us, other than that of our Lord Himself, ‘To the uttermost parts,’ ‘To every creature.’ I belong and will ever belong to ‘The Great God’ party. I will have naught to do with “The Little God’ party… Christ wants not nibblers of the possible, but grabbers of the impossible, by faith in the omnipotence, fidelity and wisdom of the Almighty Savior Who gave the command.


Is there a wall in our path? By our God we will leap over it! Are there lions and scorpions in our way! We will trample them under our feet! Does a mountain bar our progress? Saying, “be removed and cast into the sea,’; we will march on. Soldiers of Jesus! Never Surrender!”


C.T. Studd is a huge reason why the Christians in China and in Africa far outnumber the Christians in the United States today. Like Jonathan, God granted Him success when he exercised Biblical faith and courage.


Blessings From Courage

Often, God is just waiting for His people to exercise faith in Him before He really does the impressive stuff, and this was the case in I Samuel 14. Once Jonathan took that bold step of faith and started fighting Philistines, God sent an earthquake to shake up the rest of them. This threw the whole enemy camp into confusion, and Israel was able to rout the Philistine army, even though it had seemed impossible up ‘till then. “There is no limitation with God to save by many or by few!”


The Challenge to Us Today

And there is no limitation with God in regards to the challenges He has set before us. Like Jonathan, we must exercise Biblical faith to find the strength and courage we need. We must believe that there are no limitations with God, and we must know what He has commanded us to do in the Bible. If we have these two things—confidence in the will of God, and confidence in the Sovereignty of God, we can face anything without fear! If we’re like Saul, who should have known what he was supposed to do, yet was unwilling to face it and trust in God, we will never have the courage we need.


Knowing God’s Will

It’s not that difficult to know what God’s will is for your life. There are only a few basic things. As a Christian you are to worship God alone, participate in the fellowship of the church, and confront the world with Christ. As a husband and father, you are to protect and nurture your wife and children. Anything you must do to fulfill these few things is God’s will. It’s really pretty simple—you don’t need to be like Saul and seek some kind of special direction from God. Jonathan didn’t need God to speak out of the sky and tell him to assault the Philistines; he already knew all he needed to know; that he was armed to defend the people of God and so he just did it the best way he could, and God blessed him for doing His will.


In Vocations

Some of us need courage simply to pursue our own vocations. If your job does not prevent you from worshipping God, does not prevent you from fellowship with Believers, does not prevent you from sharing the faith with others, and does provide income to protect and nurture your wife and children, then work that job with the confidence that you are doing God’s will and that He is sovereign enough to fulfill His purposes through it!


On the other hand, it can be a step of Biblical faith to leave the stable income of one job to gain greater ministry opportunities in another. For me personally, that has been the greatest test of my faith. Am I willing to work as a missionary and let God take care of the bills? That’s scary. I have to remind myself often that it is God’s will for His name to be declared among the nations and that God has more than enough resources to take care of my needs, and that gives me the courage to face a situation which the world considers to be crazy.


In Child-rearing

For some of us, it is our children. I’ve had my kids act up so bad that people have, in all seriousness, asked if they’re demon-possessed. Follow the way of Saul, and our reaction is, “I’m too tired; my kid is impossible; should I discipline him or not; ahh, just let my wife handle it.” Do we have the confidence that it is God’s will that we, as fathers bring our children up in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord”? Do we believe that God is powerful enough to control even the heart of a two-year-old? If so, we have nothing to fear with our children. We must jump into the battle for our children’s hearts, knowing it is God’s will that we do so and knowing that “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me!” God will reward that kind of faith and courage.


In Witnessing

If you’re afraid to share your faith, you need to get a dose of Jonathan’s courage! 1 Peter 3:15 says, “Do not fear what they fear and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.” If it is God’s will for you to tell other people about Jesus, and if He knows everything—including every thought your evangelistic prospect is going to think, then what do we have to be afraid of? God will give us the words to say and will bless the exercise of our faith if we will just do it!



Do you get the idea? We must be men of Godly courage. Jonathan was courageous because he knew what God wanted done and he trusted that God was big enough to enable him to do it. If there’s anything that strikes fear in your heart, anything you know you ought to do, but you feel you can’t do, you need to apply the same principles Jonathan did, know what God’s basic will is, remembering how powerful He is, and just do it! God will reward that kind of faith and courage!



Father, we want to be men who do great things for You and see Your blessings poured out in our lives and in the lives of others, but we are afraid. Afraid of the dangers, afraid of poverty, afraid of ridicule, afraid of failure. Please strengthen our faith in You to believe that You are truly sovereign—that you are not limited in any way. Please give us the courage to trust You and obey Your word, no matter how scary it is to step out from what the rest of the world is doing. Dear God, make us men of faith and courage to do Your will. Amen.



Discussion Questions:

·        Are you wondering whether or not you are doing God’s will in a certain area of your life? How much confirmation is necessary before you know if something is God’s will?

·        When is a time when you have had to exercise real courage? What gave you courage?

·        How can we know where the line is in going overboard with courage—when does faith become presumption? Why wasn’t Jonathan being presumptuous?

·        What about things that you know are not God’s will, but you do anyway. Are they a matter of faith? (Whether you believe your way is best or whether you have faith that obeying God is the only way to true satisfaction.)

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