The Old Testament lesson in today’s Daily Office (1 Samuel 14:1-13) offers one of those lesser-known stories that both inspire and frustrate me. Saul and the armies of Israel are getting ready to face-off against the much-larger and better-equipped forces of the Philistines. To make matters worse, the Philistines have “cornered the market” on metal-working; and as a result, almost none of the Israelite soldiers have swords or spears. In short, defeat seems certain.
Unbeknownst to Saul, however, his son Jonathan and a young armor-bearer decide to sneak over to the Philistine camp; and there, a combination of faith and God’s intervention turns the tide. Jonathan and the armor-bearer strike unexpectedly; God sends a panic on the Philistines; and the Israelites are able to drive their enemy back.
On the one hand, this story illustrates the encouraging message that trust in the Lord can lead to victory — even in the face of overwhelming odds: David defeats Goliath; prison doors spring open; “No weapon forged against you will prevail” (Is. 54:17); that kind of thing.
But on the other hand, experience suggests that trust in the Lord doesn’t always lead to victory — or better said — it doesn’t always lead to victory if we define victory in terms of outward success and having everything turn out the way that we think it ought to turn out. People of deep faith still get sick. On this side of Christ’s return, they still encounter the sting of death. Even trust in the Lord doesn’t exempt us from suffering — which shouldn’t come as a surprise, since our Lord himself said, “In this world, you will have trouble.” (John 16:33)
Of course, Jesus went on to say, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) God’s promise, it seems to me, is not that every challenge will that we face will end in “victory.” Instead, He promises “that in all things (even ‘defeats’) God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28). He promises “that neither death nor life…nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39) He promises that faith makes it possible to have peace — even in our suffering — “because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 5:3-5)
There are other vital things to be said about today’s passage. It’s important to note, for example, that Jonathan and his armor-bearer don’t decide for themselves how their situation “ought” to turn out. Instead, they wait on a clear sign from God to know what His desires are. But let’s end with this:
I know too many people who are facing what look to be overwhelming odds. And I do pray that God will exercise His gracious might and defeat the powers that oppose them in a way that sends them on rejoicing. But simultaneously, I pray that God will deepen their faith in the Power that is within them — and will give them the peace that comes from knowing that the most important victory has already been won.
Office Note: I’ll be “out of the office” next week, sharing a mission experience with other members of my church. Therefore, there will be a brief hiatus in these daily reflections. I do plan to resume, however, upon our return.