This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Medicins Sans Frontieres opens clinic for victims of sexual violence in Papua New Guinea
1 Samuel 13:19-14:15
New English Translation (NET)
19 A blacksmith could not be found in all the land of Israel, for the Philistines had said, “This will prevent the Hebrews from making swords and spears.” 20 So all Israel had to go down to the Philistines in order to get their plowshares, cutting instruments, axes, and sickles sharpened. 21 They charged two-thirds of a shekel to sharpen plowshares and cutting instruments, and a third of a shekel to sharpen picks and axes, and to set ox goads. 22 So on the day of the battle no sword or spear was to be found in the hand of anyone in the army that was with Saul and Jonathan. No one but Saul and his son Jonathan had them.
Jonathan Ignites a Battle
23 A garrison of the Philistines had gone out to the pass at Micmash. 14 1 Then one day Jonathan son of Saul said to his armor bearer, “Come on, let’s go over to the Philistine garrison that is opposite us.” But he did not let his father know.
2 Now Saul was sitting under a pomegranate tree in Migron, on the outskirts of Gibeah. The army that was with him numbered about six hundred men. 3 Now Ahijah was carrying an ephod. He was the son of Ahitub, who was the brother of Ichabod and a son of Phineas, son of Eli, the priest of the Lord in Shiloh. The army was unaware that Jonathan had left.
4 Now there was a steep cliff on each side of the pass through which Jonathan intended to go to reach the Philistine garrison. One cliff was named Bozez, the other Seneh. 5 The cliff to the north was closer to Micmash, the one to the south closer to Geba.
6 Jonathan said to his armor bearer, “Come on, let’s go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will intervene for us. Nothing can prevent the Lord from delivering, whether by many or by a few.” 7 His armor bearer said to him, “Do everything that is on your mind. Do as you’re inclined. I’m with you all the way!”
8 Jonathan replied, “All right! We’ll go over to these men and fight them. 9 If they say to us, ‘Stay put until we approach you,’ we will stay right there and not go up to them. 10 But if they say, ‘Come up against us,’ we will go up. For in that case the Lord has given them into our hand—it will be a sign to us.”
11 When they made themselves known to the Philistine garrison, the Philistines said, “Look! The Hebrews are coming out of the holes in which they hid themselves.” 12 Then the men of the garrison said to Jonathan and his armor bearer, “Come on up to us so we can teach you a thing or two!” Then Jonathan said to his armor bearer, “Come up behind me, for the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel!”
13 Jonathan crawled up on his hands and feet, with his armor bearer following behind him. Jonathan struck down the Philistines, while his armor bearer came along behind him and killed them. 14 In this initial skirmish Jonathan and his armor bearer struck down about twenty men in an area that measured half an acre.
15 Then fear overwhelmed those who were in the camp, those who were in the field, all the army in the garrison, and the raiding bands. They trembled and the ground shook. This fear was caused by God.
Jonathan is a confident young hero or thug (depending on your viewpoint). Perhaps the story reflects a time of transition when iron weapons were the latest technology of war. In this case, however, the focus is not on the weaponry but on the raw courage of the young men who respond to the taunts of the Philistines by teaching them a thing or two. They push themselves not only into Philistine territory but into the Lord’s territory also, by daring the Lord not to respond to their courage. The fear aroused by their successful raid is attributed to the Lord, but clearly the Lord is cooperating with the young men. Their initiative is a necessary part of the Lord’s work for his people.
The author is using the old stories to examine the way the Lord works in the world. He asserts that the Lord does act but is careful to show that the dividing line between the Lord’s actions and human actions is hard to perceive; and that therefore the Lord cannot, must not, be taken for granted as an ally of his people. Both human beings and the Lord are free to decide and to act. If God inspires and helps his people, that is grace which cannot be earned although, as in this case, it may be trusted. Is this saying merely that “God helps those who help themselves”? No, it’s saying that God helps those who help God’s justice, but no comprehensive rules are given for doing this; there is always a risk of faith.
The “foolhardiness” of faith is celebrated throughout the bible. There are passages, perhaps whole books that advocate precise obedience to God’s revealed Law, but these are exceeded by those passages that celebrate initiative and adventure. God may have a plan but he neither reveals it nor enforces it, hoping, as it were, that his human children will come up with something interesting. Like what Medicins Sans Frontieres do all the time. Indeed, Christians believe that the definitive revelation of God’s character is in the initiatives and adventures of his human child Jesus, who came up with something very interesting indeed.