“Come, let us go over to the Philistines’ garrison that is on the other side.”-1 Samuel 14:1
Since the pandemic hit and restrictions on life were imposed for safety reasons, we’ve been waiting and waiting for the all-clear to sound and life to get back to normal. I don’t know that we will ever fully return to the old “normal.” This pandemic is going to leave scars. We will forever be mindful of the possibility of germs and precautions we need to take to prevent being contaminated or contaminating others. Will wearing a mask become a new fad, a trend? What about wearing gloves? Social distancing? We will see.
But what about when its right to reopen businesses and other venues, large and small. Larger stores and those deemed essential have remained open. But what about churches, when will it be time to reopen churches? Under our Constitution, government can temporarily restrict constitutional freedoms, like closing churches, if there is a compelling interest at stake. And such restrictions can be enforced if they are deemed to be the least restrictive option. There are arguments on both sides of the open versus stay closed issue. Churches have continued to minister through various media platforms. But what if the powers that be extend the policy of restricting in person gatherings in a discriminatory way? What if they begin to loosen restrictions on going to stores and sporting events and not to church? I don’t know if such discrimination will occur. But what if it does?
Let me say from the start that this study is long even by my standards. I could have separated it into parts, but I believe with so many decisions hanging in the balance it was best to simply provide the entire study. There is a right way, a God-ordained action. There is a wrong way to act without the ordination or approval of God. That is what we will see in Jonathan and Saul in this portion of scripture.
The Bible speaks about waiting on the Lord. “Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the LORD!” (Palm 27:14). “Wait on the LORD, and keep His way, and He shall exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, you shall see it” (Psalm 37:34). “For evildoers shall be cut off; but those who wait on the LORD, they shall inherit the earth” (Psalm 37:9). It’s clear, there is a time to wait on the LORD. But what about acting? When is it time to act? When is it time to take action and what does that look like? When is action ordained by God? That is what we will examine in this study.
Jonathan’s Selfless Assault – God-Ordained Action
There is a time to wait on the LORD, but there is, as we will see in 1 Samuel 14, a time to act in the LORD too. Jonathan’s selfless assault on the Philistine camp is an example of taking action in the LORD. When we look at this action, we see it is selfless in that it is an assault against the enemy camp when the odds are greatly in favor of the enemy. Jonathan didn’t see things by mere numbers. He had a higher, deeper understanding and perspective of life. He looked at his situation from God’s perspective. He saw things in terms of His mighty God, not that he was vastly outnumbered by an enemy. For Jonathan, no obstacle was too great, no enemy too many or too strong, when he had God on his side. And that is the attitude we need to be involved in God-ordained actions.
1 Samuel 14 (NKJV)
14 Now it happened one day that Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who bore his armor, “Come, let us go over to the Philistines’ garrison that is on the other side.”
There is a time when God moves us to action. As we see here in Jonathan, there is a time to take action. And as we observe Jonathan, we will see good qualities for taking action. Now we know from verse fourteen of this chapter that Jonathan and his armor bearer slew about twenty Philistines. That’s a ten-to-one advantage against them. But that didn’t deter them. They pursued the battle even against great odds, because they had God on their side!
When you have God on your side, opposition and obstacles don’t matter. When you have God on your side, obstacles and opposition doesn’t really matter. God is able. He is able to overcome any opponent or obstacle. And the one who realizes that and lives life in light of that great truth, is one who will live a life of victory giving glory to God. God makes this point in His word in numerous places:
- Deuteronomy 20:4 – 4 for the Lord your God is He who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.’
- Joshua 10:8 – 8 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have delivered them into your hand; not a man of them shall stand before you.”
- Psalm 3:8 – 8 Salvation belongs to the Lord. Your blessing is upon Your people. Selah
- Psalm 20:7–8 – Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will remember the name of the Lord our God. 8They have bowed down and fallen; But we have risen and stand upright.
- Psalm 44:3–7 – For they did not gain possession of the land by their own sword, nor did their own arm save them; but it was Your right hand, Your arm, and the light of Your countenance, Because You favored them. 4You are my King, O God; Command victories for Jacob. 5 Through You we will push down our enemies; Through Your name we will trample those who rise up against us. 6For I will not trust in my bow, nor shall my sword save me. 7But You have saved us from our enemies, and have put to shame those who hated us.
- Psalm 60:11–12 – 11 Give us help from trouble, For the help of man is 12Through God we will do valiantly, for it is He who shall tread down our enemies.
- Proverbs 21:31 – The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but deliverance is of the Lord.
In the New Testament it confirms the same stating:
- John 16:33 – 33 These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
- 1 Corinthians 15:57 – 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
- 1 John 5:4 – 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
These verses express the attitude of the one who will be used by God in great ways.
Going on the offensive. Jesus brought his disciples to Caesarea Philippi. It was a place known as the center of pagan worship. The goat-headed pagan god pan was the main god worshipped there. Pan was worshipped with orgies and some say, human sacrifice. It was the darkest of the dark places on earth at the time. But it was here that Jesus brought His disciples and it was here that Jesus posed the question, “Who do men say that I am?” And it was here that Peter declared, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:131-16).
What Jesus said next is relevant to the account of Jonathan here in 1 Samuel 14. Jesus responded to Peter’s answer by saying:
- Matthew 16:18 – 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
Why are these words relevant to us? Because Jesus purposefully had this conversation at the center of pagan worship. Let me give you a few more details about this place. The temple to Pan was built into the side of a massive rock formation. In this temple, at the rear, was a large cave and deep dark pit. It is here that it is believed human sacrifices may have taken place. The name of this cave-pit? “The Gates of Hades/Hell”! This cave-pit was seen as an entry way to hell and the place where demons came from. And these are the “Gates of Hades/Hell” Jesus said “shall not prevail against” “My church.”
Now understand here that gates are a stationary object. Gates do not attack. Gates defend. If Jesus is saying the “gates of hades shall not prevail against” “My church,” then He is speaking of an offensive not defensive action by His church. Just like Jonathan the church of Jesus is to go on the offensive against the strongholds of the devil.
The church is too often on the defensive. Apologetics, the defense of the faith, is important. We need to know how to defend what we believe when it is attacked. But there is another ministry of the church we often forget about. Polemics is when the church goes on the offensive and initiates contact with the enemies of God. We need to be polemical like Jonathan not merely apologetic. That is what this chapter shows us.
But he did not tell his father. 2 And Saul was sitting in the outskirts of Gibeah under a pomegranate tree which is in Migron. The people who were with him were about six hundred men. 3 Ahijah the son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the Lord’s priest in Shiloh, was wearing an ephod. But the people did not know that Jonathan had gone.
Waiting on the LORD is not sitting in self-satisfaction but spending time seeking the will of the LORD. Saul was waiting under a pomegranate tree. A pomegranate tree was a symbol of success and power. Saul, sitting under this tree, seems to have been basking in his previous victory over Nahash the Ammonite (1 Samuel 11). He is reeling in the prestige and cachet he had obtained from that victory. And this is a problem. It’s a problem because when he should have been addressing the threat of the next invader (the Philistines) he was resting on his laurels.
In Ancient Greece, victorious athletes were presented with laurel wreaths to wear. They were, and still are, signs of great accomplishment, unless you start resting on them… To ‘rest on your laurels’ means that you get lazy or complacent about what you could achieve because you’re too busy basking in the memories of former glories. 
Waiting on the Lord is not sitting back and glorying in your past accomplishments. Waiting on the Lord is not complacency. Waiting on the Lord is an active seeking to hear from the Lord. Waiting on the Lord is an active position of faith. It’s described by Paul in his letter to the Romans where it states:
- Romans 12:1–2 – I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
To wait on the Lord properly we present ourselves before Him. It means giving ourselves to Him as a living sacrifice. It means presenting ourselves to Him in a holy way. It means seeking what is acceptable to God in our lives. It’s means we report to the Lord ready for service. This is how we find what God’s will is for our lives.
That is not what we see in Saul here. Here we see Saul setting himself up as the center of attention and him basking in accolades and the attention of his groupies. It’s not a place any godly leader should ever set themselves up in.
4 Between the passes, by which Jonathan sought to go over to the Philistines’ garrison, there was a sharp rock on one side and a sharp rock on the other side. And the name of one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh. 5 The front of one faced northward opposite Michmash, and the other southward opposite Gibeah.
God ordained action involves the willingness to encounter risks and rewards. Just because God ordains an action to be taken does not mean there aren’t any risks. Understand there are always rewards as well as risks in taking action.
Faith is described in the Bible as:
- Hebrews 11:1 – Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Faith is God’s means for us to press on in hope for the future. But it is also “the evidence of things not seen.” When you can’t see something, you have to trust God for it. That’s the point of faith; trusting God for something that is not yet in your grasp. If it’s not yet in your grasp, then there is a chance it may not ever be in your grasp. You have to take the risk that God is able to provide what you are seeking. You have to take the risk that you have heard God right. You have to take the risk that God is able to fulfill what His word claims He can fulfill. There’s an element of uncertainty, of risk, when we walk by faith and trust the Lord.
The name “Bozez” means glistening, surpassing white. The name “Seneh” means thorny, rocky, craggily. Why would the Lord include the names of these two sharp rocky formations? I believe it’s to tell us a truth about every situation we will face. With every situation we wait upon there will be a glistening prospect of blessing and a sharp craggily thorny set of difficulties. Waiting on the Lord provides us with time to hear from the Lord about how to maneuver through to victory.
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.”
God ordained actions involve selflessly trusting the LORD. The right attitude for action is one that trusts the LORD to act for you. Jonathan was willing to go up against a garrison of the Philistines. It was just him and his armor bearer. They would be outnumbered at least ten to one. But Jonathan said, “Let’s go!” How could Jonathan and his armor bearer have such courage? What was the basis of their confidence and boldness? Jonathan was willing to step out completely relying on God’s resources and God’s power to bring the victory. Jonathan trusted God so completely, that he was willing to put his life on the line. He invited his armor bearer to do the same and he did. God will use the one who is willing to put their life on the line. God will use the selfless servant.
Hudson Taylor once said, “God’s work, done God’s way, will never lack God’s supply.” That confident attitude in the Lord is what we see in the case of Jonathan. Even though they were greatly outnumbered, Jonathan had the great Equalizer, God Almighty. David the psalmist learned this truth and was inspired to write about it saying:
- Psalm 18:29–39 – 29 For by You I can run against a troop, by my God I can leap over a wall. 30 As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him. 31 For who is God, except the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? 32It is God who arms me with strength, and makes my way perfect. 33He makes my feet like the feet of deer, and sets me on my high places. 34He teaches my hands to make war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. 35You have also given me the shield of Your salvation; Your right hand has held me up, Your gentleness has made me great. 36You enlarged my path under me, so my feet did not slip. 37I have pursued my enemies and overtaken them; Neither did I turn back again till they were destroyed. 38I have wounded them, so that they could not rise; They have fallen under my feet. 39For You have armed me with strength for the battle; You have subdued under me those who rose up against me.
David became best friends with Jonathan later in life. I wonder if David had Jonathan in mind when he was inspired to write these words.
God ordained action is not presumptuous. Jonathan says, “It may be the LORD will work for us.” He trusts in the LORD and he puts himself in the sovereign providence of God. Jonathan was taking a step of faith. He was putting not only the plan but the outcome in the Lord’s hands. He was stepping out in faith trusting the Lord to act. It “may” be that he had read the Lord wrong. But also “may” be that he was right in sensing the Lord wanting him to act. Either way, he was trusting in the Lord to work.
God ordained actions rely on a godly perspective. The right attitude for action sees situations from God’s perspective. Jonathan says, “For nothing restrains the LORD from saving by many or by few.” Martin Luther, when stepping out in faith to oppose the Catholic church and all its unscriptural practices did so in faith. In the beginning it was for the most part him against the mammoth church establishment. But that did not deter Martin. His attitude was, “One with God is a majority.”
If God is on your side, you are in the majority. And that is scriptural. This is supported by scripture which states:
- Deuteronomy 32:30 (NKJV) – How could one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, And the Lord had surrendered them?
- Daniel 11:32 (NKJV) – 32 Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.
- Zechariah 4:6 (NKJV) – 6 So he answered and said to me: “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the Lord of hosts.
Whenever we take action our action should be based on the faith understanding that God is able. We don’t plan or take action depending on ourselves. That is a recipe for disaster. But when we act in faith in God and His resources. Victory is assured.
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.”
God ordained actions find favor with those around you. The armor bearer supported the decision of Jonathan. God gives us favor with those around us when He is ordaining the action. When God ordains or approves the action, He unites people to act.
God ordained action involves the heart. The right attitude for action is wholehearted devotion. The armorbearer tells Jonathan to do what was in his heart. Though it doesn’t say it specifically, the LORD put it into Jonathan’s heart to take action. And Jonathan put shoes on his faith and stepped out to act in what the Lord had put on his 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.”
God ordained action follows through on the God ordained plan. The right attitude for action is guided by the Lord. Jonathan set conditions to determine whether or not to act and those conditions were reliant on what he believed the Lord would do to direct him. He trusted that if God wanted to, He could shut the door to this action (Rev. 3:7). But he also believed God could just as easily open the door to victory. Jonathan gave God the prerogative to close or open the door on this action.
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.”
God ordained actions involve God given confidence and faith. Jonathan believed God was with him. When God is with you, you need fear nothing. In the New Testament it confirms this stating:
- Romans 8:31–32 (NKJV) – 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?
- Philippians 4:13 (NKJV) – 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Do you know that God is with you? Are you resting on your laurels, cowering in fear, or stepping out in the confidence and power of the Lord?
13 And Jonathan climbed up on his hands and knees with his armorbearer after him; and they fell before Jonathan.
God ordained action involves being on our knees. While Jonathan and his armor bearer are climbing on their knees to get to the enemy, the imagery brings to mind the adage, “Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon their knees.” God ordained action should involve prayer.
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.
God ordained actions are victorious. When you act in the LORD there is victory.
15 And there was trembling in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. The garrison and the raiders also trembled; and the earth quaked, so that it was a very great trembling.
God ordained actions shake the world. When you take action in the Lord, He shakes things up.
16 Now the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked, and there was the multitude, melting away; and they went here and there. 17 Then Saul said to the people who were with him, “Now call the roll and see who has gone from us.” And when they had called the roll, surprisingly, Jonathan and his armorbearer were not there. 18 And Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring the ark of God here” (for at that time the ark of God was with the children of Israel). 19 Now it happened, while Saul talked to the priest, that the noise which was in the camp of the Philistines continued to increase; so Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand.”
God ordained actions are missed out on by those who rest on their laurels. Saul is the polar opposite to his son Jonathan here. Saul is oblivious to and out of sync with the God-ordained actions of his son Jonathan. And the confusion we see is the consequence of his wrong waiting on God.
In Psalms it states, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye” (Psalm 32:8). The idea of this verse is of a servant being guided by their master’s eyes. At a dinner the master would sit at the table and rather than call out commands, he would direct his servants about what he wanted or who of his guests needed something by directing his servants with his eyes. The servant was required to always watch for his master’s direction by keeping eye contact. Similarly, we are to watch God so closely that He can direct us with His eyes, or His impressions and circumstances.
Saul had lost eye contact with God. He was out of touch with Him because his focus was all on his goals, his desires, his mission, his “victory.” And because of that he missed out on being on the front line of what God wanted to do. Jonathan had his eyes on the Lord and because of that was there to be used by the Lord. The contrast couldn’t be starker.
20 Then Saul and all the people who were with him assembled, and they went to the battle; and indeed every man’s sword was against his neighbor, and there was very great confusion. 21 Moreover the Hebrews who were with the Philistines before that time, who went up with them into the camp from the surrounding country, they also joined the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. 22 Likewise all the men of Israel who had hidden in the mountains of Ephraim, when they heard that the Philistines fled, they also followed hard after them in the battle. 23 So the Lord saved Israel that day, and the battle shifted to Beth Aven.
God ordained action unites God’s people in the battle. Another indication that Jonathan’s bold faithful assault was of God is how it unites God’s people. When God is in something it unites His people.
Saul’s Self-Serving Actions That Were Not Ordained by God
Now we will see a contrast between Saul and his son Jonathan. Jonathan’s God-ordained action produced victory and unity. Saul’s self-serving Godless actions will produce hardship for God’s people.
24 And the men of Israel were distressed that day, for Saul had placed the people under oath, saying, “Cursed is the man who eats any food until evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies.” So none of the people tasted food. 25 Now all the people of the land came to a forest; and there was honey on the ground.
Actions not ordained by God distress those involved and shortsightedly do not account for the needs of those involved. Soon Saul himself will grow more and more distant from God and feel deep darkness and distress of soul.
26 And when the people had come into the woods, there was the honey, dripping; but no one put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath.
Actions not ordained by God use fear to control. God hasn’t given a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind. We will see none of these in Saul. Instead we will see a growing unsettledness and anxiety in Saul.
27 But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath; therefore he stretched out the end of the rod that was in his hand and dipped it in a honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his countenance brightened. 28 Then one of the people said, “Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed is the man who eats food this day.’” And the people were faint. 29 But Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. Look now, how my countenance has brightened because I tasted a little of this honey. 30 How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found! For now would there not have been a much greater slaughter among the Philistines?”
Actions not ordained by God trouble the land and snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. Oh, what might have been! But Saul’s impatience squandered all the potential and blessing God had put before him.
One of the criticisms and indictments of Jesus on the religious people of His day was that they nullified or sidetracked God’s commandment and word with their human traditions (e.g. Matthew 15:3-9).
The Pharisees were circumventing God’s law that said to honor (care for) your father and mother by saying giving to God took priority over that. It’s not either or but both and but the Pharisees were simply using that to fill their coffers at the expense of money that would have been used to help needy parents. They put restrictions on people that stifled their following God and His word.
The same is seen in Saul’s restrictions. Saul wanted a great victory. That was his priority. But in pursuing a victory over his enemies he lost sight of the needs of the people. Jonathan, the real godly leader, stated the truth, “How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found! For now, would there not have been a much greater slaughter among the Philistines?” Pursuing a goal at the expense of the welfare of people is seldom part of God-ordained action.
Jonathan’s Civil Disobedience
Jonathan disobeyed his father king Saul during a military campaign when Saul ordered his men not to eat anything while in pursuit of the Philistines (1 Samuel 14:24-30). The people disobeyed king Saul’s order to execute Jonathan because he had disobeyed Saul (1 Samuel 14:31-46).
In disobeying the foolish order of his father king Saul, Jonathan was acting in civil disobedience. The command of his father was not only shortsighted, it was contrary to the welfare of his people. It stifled the extent of the victory over the Philistines.
Civil disobedience is called for when civil laws contradict the Law of God or are evil. The purpose of governments is to keep the peace and provide a safe and free environment for people. When government goes beyond those purposes it moves closer to tyranny.
Civil disobedience is found in various situations throughout the Bible. Biblical examples of civil disobedience are:
- The Hebrew midwives defying the command of Pharaoh by saving the Jewish baby boys – including Moses’s parents saving him (Ex 1:15-21, 2:1-10)
- Moses refusing Pharaoh and siding with the Jews (Heb 11:27)
- Rahab disobeyed the command of the king of Jericho in order to hide the Israelite spies (Joshua 2).
- Obadiah disobeyed Queen Jezebel’s command to kill all the prophets of God (1 Kings 18).
- Jehosheba, sister of Ahaziah, daughter of king Joram, hid Joash (son of Ahaziah) from the executioners who were seeking to kill the royal heirs. Joash was later crowned king of Judah (2 Kings 11:1-12)
- Queen Esther approaching the king uninvited in order to save the Jewish people from annihilation (Est 4:10-16)
- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego refusing to bow to the golden image of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 3:1-23)
- Daniel defying the king by refusing to stop praying to the God of Israel (Daniel 6:1-13)
- Jesus refusing to abide by the Jewish Sabbath laws (Matt 12:1-14, Jn 18:31)
- The apostles and early Christians refusing to stop preaching the Gospel (Acts 5:27-29, 12:1-4, 16:19-24)
- Believers throughout the ages defying ungodly authorities (Heb 11:35-38)
- During the Tribulation those who have accepted Jesus as Savior will refuse to take the mark of the Antichrist (Revelation 13:15)
Notice these acts of civil disobedience are for the most part nonviolent. Moses could be seen as part of a civil disobedience that involved violence. But it was God, not the people, who was justly liberating His people from an oppressive government. When possible, we should work within the system of government to bring about the changes toward godliness that more in line with the righteous ways of God.
Civil disobedience is not something to take lightly. We are to cooperate with government as a general rule (Romans 13; 1 Peter 2:13-17). Government is ordained by God “for good.” The government is in place to restrain those who “do evil” (Romans 13:4). The problem arises when governments are enforcing evil and restricting what is good. But we need to keep in mind that when Paul was inspired to write Romans 13, he lived in a Roman Empire that legislated and encouraged illicit immoral acts like same sex marriage and even pederasty and pedophilia. In ancient Rome there were many unjust laws:
- Wearing purple was a crime for anyone other than the emperor.
- Women were forbidden to cry at funerals. This was a law created to counter the use of paid mourners.
- Husbands could murder their wife’s lovers. If the husband caught his wife with a lover, he was encouraged to lock them up together and he had 20 hours to call all his neighbors and tell them of all that had happened. He had three days to make the incident public and share the details. He was then required legally to divorce his wife. If he didn’t divorce his wife, he could be prosecuted as a pimp. If the lover was slave or prostitute, he could murder them. If the lover was a citizen, they were not allowed to kill them without consulting his father in law. Fathers could legally murder the lover of their daughters. If a woman caught her husband having an affair, there was little she could do.
- Capital punishment was performed sometimes by beheading. If the state viewed your crime as serious, it was punishable by drowning in a sack filled with animals.
- Prostitutes were mandated to dye their hair blond
- Suicide was seen as a practical option in some circumstances.
- If a person was killed by lightning, they were believed to have been struck by the god. Jupiter. Because of this they were not permitted to bury the body.
- Fathers could only sell their sons into slavery three times.
- Women were required to leave their homes for three days during the year, otherwise they would become property. In Rome the rule of “usuacpio” was observed which meant that if you had possession of something for a long enough period of time, you assumed ownership. The same was true in regards to women.
- Fathers could legally murder their entire family. Fathers ruled in Rome. There were few limits on what a father could do to his family. This was true even after children grew to adulthood. This was true even after marriage and children only gained their freedom from abuse and murder from fathers when the fathers died. 
This was the reality of the governmental situation in which Paul and other Christians lived when the Lord moved him and inspired him to write his letter to Roman Christians. And when he did so, he still, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, instructed Christians to be subject to their government. Peter wrote much the same under similar conditions.
In the United States right now there have been restrictions imposed on our freedoms in order to protect the compelling interests of the nation for the health of its citizens. This is arguably justified. The problem arises when the government picks and chooses what is and isn’t an “essential” service and opens and closes services accordingly. We should keep in mind that while the government has sought to limit gatherings such as church services, they are not squashing the church’s efforts to share the gospel or teach the word of God. There are other channels of ministry such as YouTube, online, radio, etc. While gatherings of 10 or more are restricted, it is not a total shut down by the government of the church. If our government were to discriminate and favor one group gathering over that of the church; if the government crosses the line into discrimination and unfair treatment of the church, then civil disobedience would be called for. I don’t think any pastor or Christian worth their salt would disagree with that.
If any organization should be protective of its member’s health and welfare, it should be the church. Churches that think opening their doors is a display of faith should consider that such a “faith” action may also be interpreted as a callous un-Christlike absence of concern for the people they purport to be caring for. And, if, God forbid, someone who attends a service comes down with the Covid-19 virus and succumbs to that virus, or spreads it to someone else who succumbs to that virus, well, that would be tragic for those who die, and it would be tragic in terms of the tarnishing of the reputation of the bride of Christ. And should such a terrible scenario play out, how would the pastor and leadership feel about their role in the illness or death of someone? These are things to be considered in moving forward. We want to make sure God ordains whatever actions we take.
On the rare occasion when civil disobedience is appropriate the saint should step up with spiritual armor on (Eph. 6:10-18), and step out in faith. It may cost us our freedom here and now. It may cost us our life. But the heavenly rewards we earn as a result of being true to God over government will be well worth it (cf. Matthew 5:11-12). Just make sure that any persecution you experience is due to righteous God-ordained actions and not evil actions (cf. 1 Peter 4:15-16). Ask yourself, “Will this action glorify God or tarnish His image?” Is your action selflessly surrendered to God or selfishly seeking to glorify yourself? Are you seeking a reputation as a “courageous” Christian? Or are you acting as a humble servant of God?
Most importantly, all of this and anything involving civil resistance or disobedience, begins with prayer. We need to pray for government officials and those in leadership and do that across the board (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We sacrifice the moral high ground when and if we fail to pray and seek God’s guidance and assistance before, we resist governments. In the United States we have a Declaration of Independence penned by mostly godly men against oppression from and earthly government. But if you examine the chronology of events, you will find that before there was a Declaration of Independence, there was a declaration of dependence in prayer that preceded all of those revolutionary actions. It’s in prayer that we are guided by God and strengthened by God. When we look at the incredible durability and wisdom of not only the Declaration of Independence but also the Constitution of the United States of America, we need to understand that they are the products of people who sought the Lord beforehand to discover the right course of action. And the result has been one of the greatest if not the greatest countries in human history.
31 Now they had driven back the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon. So the people were very faint. 32 And the people rushed on the spoil, and took sheep, oxen, and calves, and slaughtered them on the ground; and the people ate them with the blood. 33 Then they told Saul, saying, “Look, the people are sinning against the Lord by eating with the blood!”
Actions not ordained by God lead to sinful out of control shortcuts and practices. The ungodly, overly restrictive orders of Saul lead his people into sin. That is what such rules and restrictions always lead to. Saul put his accomplishments above the people and it led to a quagmire of sin. A godly leader who leads God-ordained actions, does not casually put God’s people at risk or in a situation that is likely to cause them to sin. A God-ordained leader is mindful of the needs and welfare of those they lead. A God-ordained leader facilitates the faith and holiness of those he leads. Saul didn’t care one iota about the welfare of those he led. They were only a means to his end. They were expendable. They were his pawns. That is a disgusting display of insensitivity and lack of empathy and compassion.
Jesus indicted the Pharisees for hindering people from coming to God or being rightly used by Him. Jesus said:
- Matthew 23:13–15 – 13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. 14 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. 15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
The point made here by Jesus is that the Pharisees made every effort to build their kingdom and, in the process, hindered people from entering the kingdom of God.
The same can be seen here with king Saul. He is not a servant of the people. He has become self-serving and willing to pursue his objectives at the expense of the people. And in the process the people are put in such and untenable position that leads them to sin.
So he said, “You have dealt treacherously; roll a large stone to me this day.” 34 Then Saul said, “Disperse yourselves among the people, and say to them, ‘Bring me here every man’s ox and every man’s sheep, slaughter them here, and eat; and do not sin against the Lord by eating with the blood.’ ” So every one of the people brought his ox with him that night, and slaughtered it there. 35 Then Saul built an altar to the Lord. This was the first altar that he built to the Lord.
36 Now Saul said, “Let us go down after the Philistines by night, and plunder them until the morning light; and let us not leave a man of them.”
And they said, “Do whatever seems good to you.”
Then the priest said, “Let us draw near to God here.”
Actions not ordained by God have God as an afterthought. Saul wants to act and get in on the victory. He purposes to step out. The priest reminds Saul that they should “draw near to God here.” For Saul, God has become an afterthought.
37 So Saul asked counsel of God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will You deliver them into the hand of Israel?” But He did not answer him that day.
Actions not ordained by God have silence from God. When you only care about your personal advancement and personal goals, don’t expect to hear from God. Saul is proudly pursuing his own personal advancement. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5-6). This is why Saul isn’t hearing from God.
38 And Saul said, “Come over here, all you chiefs of the people, and know and see what this sin was today. 39 For as the Lord lives, who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.” But not a man among all the people answered him. 40 Then he said to all Israel, “You be on one side, and my son Jonathan and I will be on the other side.”
And the people said to Saul, “Do what seems good to you.”
41 Therefore Saul said to the Lord God of Israel, “Give a perfect lot.” So Saul and Jonathan were taken, but the people escaped. 42 And Saul said, “Cast lots between my son Jonathan and me.” So Jonathan was taken. 43 Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.”
And Jonathan told him, and said, “I only tasted a little honey with the end of the rod that was in my hand. So now I must die!”
44 Saul answered, “God do so and more also; for you shall surely die, Jonathan.”
Actions not ordained by God are irrational and unmindful of what is truly important. Saul was shortsighted and didn’t have a grasp on what God was intending to do. Saul was destitute of any vision for the big picture and what was needed to gain victory. Saul was relying on himself more than God and this is a recipe for disaster or at least being out of sync with God. His out of sync status causes him to miss out on God’s best, a greater victory.
45 But the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has accomplished this great deliverance in Israel? Certainly not! As the Lord lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people rescued Jonathan, and he did not die.
46 Then Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place.
Action not ordained by God will be opposed by people. The unreasonable shortsighted commands of Saul are resisted by the people. If Saul had been like Jonathan, in pursuit of God and His plans and glory, the people would have followed him no matter what. But because he is only self-serving, the people are not willing to get on board with him.
47 So Saul established his sovereignty over Israel, and fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, against the people of Ammon, against Edom, against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he harassed them. 48 And he gathered an army and attacked the Amalekites, and delivered Israel from the hands of those who plundered them.
49 The sons of Saul were Jonathan, Jishui, and Malchishua. And the names of his two daughters were these: the name of the firstborn Merab, and the name of the younger Michal. 50 The name of Saul’s wife was Ahinoam the daughter of Ahimaaz. And the name of the commander of his army was Abner the son of Ner, Saul’s uncle. 51 Kish was the father of Saul, and Ner the father of Abner was the son of Abiel.
52 Now there was fierce war with the Philistines all the days of Saul. And when Saul saw any strong man or any valiant man, he took him for himself.
Actions not ordained by God lead to more war and no peace. Disruption and a lack of peace are always present in efforts unordained by God. And that is what we see in the life of king Saul.
I suppose that we can look at this chapter and find exceptions to what I have attributed to God-ordained and not God-ordained actions. Pray about what God would have you to do. Submit your desires to the Lord. Ask His direction, His ordination. Just remember, when you aren’t living in a dynamic relationship with God like Jonathan, you’ll always be a step behind and out of sync with God’s plans like king Saul was. When you are living in vital relationship with God, He will tell you what to do and He will empower what He tells you to do. Victory is sweet for those seeking to venture out in faith for God’s glory. For those who are only seeking self-glory, even victory has a bitter taste. Which are you? Are you venturing out in faith for the glory of God, depending on Him for opportunity and victory? Or are you like Saul, resting in the shade of past victories, and then being caught unaware and unprepared and reduced to playing catchup with those God is using? Are you in step with God, or are you out of step with Him? Are you lunge ahead with Him or lagging behind without Him? Which are you? I pray we all act only when God ordains it.