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to faith.

1 Samuel 14:16–23

Now the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked, and there was the multitude, melting away; and they went here and there. 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. 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). 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.” 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. 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. 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. So the LORD saved Israel that day, and the battle shifted to Beth Aven.

Suddenly, the battle turns. This causes the less zealous Israelites—those who hid in the mountains, and even those who were with the Philistines—to join in. It’s a rout.

There is a discrepancy between the Hebrew text and the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) on what Saul asked Abijah to bring. The Hebrew (which the NKJV follows) says, “Bring the ark,” but the Septuagint says, “Bring the ephod.” The ephod is useful for deciding whether to go to battle. The ark is useful for winning it (or so they think). However, when Saul says to the priest, “Withdraw your hand,” that refers to his use of the ephod. Touching the ark is prohibited.

And that’s significant. Saul’s confidence in victory inspired him to stop inquiring of the LORD.

So, while Jonathan’s faith is being strengthened, Saul is being weakened. In today’s passage, Saul stops inquiring of the LORD and wins the battle anyway.

Thus, Jonathan sees how the LORD confirms his plans and then blesses them. Saul sees just the opposite—without confirmation, he still does okay.

That’s a problem—one that affects all of us. Sometimes people get away with things we might think they shouldn’t get away with. Sometimes I get away with things I shouldn’t get away with. And sometimes the converse happens; doing the right thing seems to be very “unblessed.”

These puzzling, seemingly unjust outcomes can challenge one’s faith. In fact, many, many people lose their faith when it feels like God isn’t there. They pray fervently for a trial to end, and it doesn’t end. Or they pray their brains out for God to heal a loved one, and the loved one takes a turn for the worst.

Then, well-meaning friends utter platitudes that don’t really answer the hard questions. Ouch.

The cold truth is that sometimes we’re just not going to know (or understand) what God is up to.


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Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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