02 Feb 2009

Quick Thoughts on Prince Jonathan

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I stayed up late working on the book–it’s done today kids–and I forgot to do my Sunday religious post. So here it is, better late than never:

Yesterday my pastor discussed the story of King Saul’s son Jonathan, who took his armor bearer and walked into the Philistine camp. They double-handedly killed more than 20 Philistines who presumably were much better equipped. (Incidentally, I want to refer to the lad as Prince Jonathan, but that sounds odd. Did the Israelites have kings but not princes?) Here’s the postgame summary:

6 Then Jonathan said to the young man who bore his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the LORD will work for us. For nothing restrains the LORD from saving by many or by few.”
7 So his armorbearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Go then; here I am with you, according to your heart.”
8 Then Jonathan said, “Very well, let us cross over to these men, and we will show ourselves to them. 9 If they say thus to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place and not go up to them. 10 But if they say thus, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up. For the LORD has delivered them into our hand, and this will be a sign to us.”
11 So both of them showed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines. And the Philistines said, “Look, the Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden.” 12 Then the men of the garrison called to Jonathan and his armorbearer, and said, “Come up to us, and we will show you something.”
Jonathan said to his armorbearer, “Come up after me, for the LORD has delivered them into the hand of Israel.” 13 And Jonathan climbed up on his hands and knees with his armorbearer after him; and they fell before Jonathan. And as he came after him, his armorbearer killed them. 14 That first slaughter which Jonathan and his armorbearer made was about twenty men within about half an acre of land.

Now one of my favorite things is to speculate on how the “miracles” of the Bible were actually consistent with the laws of physics. The point is not to explain them away, the point is rather to see how clever the Lord is in doing something amazing without cheating. In other words, it is more impressive if Jesus walks on water, or feeds 5,000 people with a few loaves and fish, without having to say, “OK, let’s temporarily suspend the rules we initially imposed on atoms.”

Anyway, regarding this story, I think it is similar to the kung fu movies where the good guy takes on 50 bad guys. At first, you are thinking, “What the heck? Why don’t they all just rush him?” But they might not because they are the bad guys. In other words, the “smart” thing to do is wait in the wings and see if the guy fighting the intruder wins, before going up yourself.

In this particular story though, there is more to it. The Philistines must have been a little confused when two guys come up to fight all of them. They might have been looking over their shoulders for an ambush. And then, because they were literally inspired, Jonathan and his armor bearer slew the first few guys that approached them. That gave them more confidence, and started to really worry the Philistines. Can you imagine by the time you’re the 11th Philistine to go up against them, and what you had expected to be a hilarious bloodletting of these two insane Hebrews, has now resulted in 10 of your buddies getting killed in a few minutes? You would probably go up to them thinking, “Now I’m going to die,” and you would be right.

Last point: My pastor didn’t mention this, but I found it fascinating that Jonathan had come up with a test beforehand to determine whether God wanted him to proceed. I think that is very interesting, because a lot of time people will ex post rationalize something as being evidence of God’s endorsement of your enterprise.

To give an example: George Bush thought God wanted him to invade Iraq. But I wonder if he actually set up a test like Jonathan did–“If Saddam says such and such when I tell him to turn over the weapons, then we invade, whereas if…”–or if he just assumed that as events unfolded, they confirmed that he was in the right. And let me be clear: Even if the test had just been, “If Saddam doesn’t hand them over, then that is God’s green light,” it makes a huge difference whether Bush had said that to himself before making his official demand (or whatever).

Incidentally, I am just picking George Bush as a modern illustration of this, because I know he thinks in these terms. I am not accusing him (on this score) of hypocrisy, because I don’t live up to these standards very often myself. The reason is ultimately a lack of faith, and also an uncertainty about doing parlor tricks with God. E.g. if you are unsure about whether to take a job, you could say, “Well, I’m going to flip this coin, and if God wants me to…” But that seems a lot more flippant than what Jonathan did.

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