Marching on – joining God’s restoration

If there was ever a time to “rebuild, restore, repair” (Isaiah 61:4) a nation, the time is now. Covid-19 hit South Africa hard in a time during which it was reeling from the blows of post-Apartheid tensions, wide-spread corruption, a series of droughts and ongoing political instability.  Today, unemployment is at an all-time high and our economy has shrunk by 50%.  Racial and socio-economic polarization is ever widening and social unrest is a common occurance.  The education system is struggling to meet the need.  Infrastructure is deteriorating.  The social fibre of families and communities are fractured, resulting in lower morals, violence and a general sense of hopelessness.  The “rainbow nation” dream we embarked on 25 years ago seems as evasive as the pot of gold grounding this colourful symbol of hope to our land.

In this dire situation, there is a call for the courageous ones to lead the charge.  But rather than courage I see even faith-filled people disengaged from God’s invitation to “rebuild up the ancient ruins; raise the former devastations; repair the ruined cities”.  The waves of devastation persuade many to defect from God’s Kingdom quest to renew all things.[1]  Others seem distracted from the call to rebuild by their pursuits of security and comfort.[2]  Many will admit that they are dismayed – pacified from terror by scale decay and destruction. Sadly, the majority of faithful, courageous Kingdom veterans seem disheartened, weary from the repeated efforts to reconcile, rebuild and restore a nation in pain; They have lost confidence in their ability to make a lasting impact and are tired of trying. 

Can you identify with one of these groups?  Because if you can, the historical account of Jonathan and his armour bearer will speak not just into our contemporary context, but also into your heart.

1 Samuel 13 opens with the newly crowned King Saul and his son Jonathan leading the oppressed tribes of Israel in combat against the Philistines strongholds in Gibeah.  By God’s grace, they had success in these two battles, and 30’000 men joined King Saul’s army.  However, the Philistines responded by marching an innumerable mass of foot soldiers, 30’000 chariots and 6’000 horseback riders. The Israelites were terrified, knowing that they were not only outnumbered but also outclassed by Philistines technology – they had no blacksmiths who could produce iron weapons like their enemies.

These overwhelming odds left Saul’s army intimidated.  After one week 24’000 defectors, dismayed, and distracted soldiers abandoned the quest to liberate Israel from its oppressors. And the 600 who were left were dismayed, hiding out in a spot where the Benjamites also fortified themselves for four months a few years earlier.[3]  However, 1 Samuel 14 shows how two men’s faith in God not only brought about a great victory but revived the hearts of the soldiers to trust in God and fight for the restoration of Israel again.  

This account was recorded as an encouragement and example for God’s people facing similar overwhelming odds.[4]  What can we, facing equally devastating challenges, learn from this inspiring story?

Lessons from Jonathan’s quest

The contrast between King Saul and his son Jonathan is striking: while the king and his army were “taking it easy” (14:2 MSG) in their hideout, Jonathan remembered that there is a cause. Yes, he could play it safe and enjoy his status and comfort, but Jonathan’s conviction persuaded him the crisis called him to act in courage.  In a similar situation, three chapters later, his future friend David challenged the cowering soldiers’ passivity: “Is there not a cause?”[5]  Jonathan was compelled to act on his conviction.  Yes, it is safer and more comfortable to secure yourself, to stay away from the destructive forces and maintain the status quo, but there is a cause that calls for courage.

Jonathan’s courage would make Brene Brown very proud: he planned to be vulnerable and show up in the face of fear, and trust in God.  Outnumbered, with only one sword, in an exposed, defenceless position at the bottom of the ravine, he tested his conviction to check whether indeed was with him in this endeavour.  He acted in humble faith, not arrogant presumption.  Jonathan knew that Israel’s covenant God had delivered his people from even greater dangers in the past and that He was faithful and able to save them from this situation.  But he did not pressure that his plan was indeed Israel’s plan, and therefore he checked with God before climbing the cliff face into combat.

Once his check confirmed his conviction that God is indeed calling him into this conflict, Jonathan was confident to climb into combat.  But he was not alone – the prince was comforted by the companionship of his dedicated armour bearer’s vow “I’m with you all the way.” And where two of more agrees about anything, there the Lord is present, commanding a blessing.   The Lord’s cooperation in their fight was more than their strength in combat: the Lord himself was fighting for the liberation of his people from oppression, “the ground itself quaking”.  He did not send Jonathan into battle on his behalf – he was inviting Jonathan to join him in the liberation of his people.

The chaos of combat attracted the attention of the look-outs above king Saul’s hideout. Learning that the cries came from his son’s charge against the Philistine garrison, Saul called the priest closer to inquire the will of God (through some ritual).  But the noise of combat became so loud that he got the army to combat.  God was in the move, calling Israel to join the deliverance! 

Courage is contagious, as we see in this account. The disheartened regained strength, the defectors returned to Israel’s army, the dismayed reemerged from their hideouts, and the distracted rejoined the quest to rid the land of evil.  And therein is the hope for our day: one believer who responds to God’s invitation to join him or her in his quest to rebuild, repair and restore will instil the courage to those disengaged from God’s Kingdom mission to renew the land.

A call for our day

It is tempting to flee from the devastation that is sweeping over the country.  It is comforting to gather with God’s people for safety and avoid the dangers and oppression in the world around us.  It is easier to focus on personal security and comfort of our homes.  But ignoring the pain and destructive forces will only embed the ruin for coming generations. Like Jonathan, the Lord of Liberty and Life is calling him to join him as he tackles the evils that enslave the nation. 

Landa Cope writes of research into “the most Christian city in America” where Dallas, Texas boasts the most active Christian Church attendance and giving in the nation.  The sobering outcome of the study reveals that mere devotion to God and church activities has seemly no impact on the wellbeing (peace) of the city.  If the charge on the church could be summed in the phrase “Let God’s Kingdom Come”, or “seek the peace of the city”[6], then this research suggests that mere church attendance and ministry among the members utterly fails the mandate of the church.  We are called to get out of the safe spaces and engage the enemies of God’s kingdom with the Lord of Hosts.

And like Jonathan learned, this text shows us that God is on the march with those who dare, and all barriers bow in his presence among his people.    

“What ails you, O sea, that you flee?
    O Jordan, that you turn back?
O mountains, that you skip like rams?
    O hills, like lambs?

Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
    at the presence of the God of Jacob”

Psalm 114

This account is both comforting and inspirational to me. An oppressed and divided nation, led by a cowardice ruler and self-preserving security force was captured by a hoard of coordinated, brutal plunderers. One man had it in his heart to risk his comfort for the cause, confident of God’s power and faithfulness.  He did more than recapture that piece of land; his charge inspired the confidence of Israel’s fighting men.   Imitating Jonathan’s trust in God will be rewarded by God’s cooperation, as well as the spreading of contagious courage. 

This text calls me to quiet down and consider where God calls me to join him in his work of restoration and reconciliation.  Which “garrison” of evil we would love to see demolished first.  What cause is close to us, always in our mind and on our heart?  Which companion will join us in this charge?  But before we move, we need to check whether this is charge is something the Lord is inviting you into, at this time.

[1] Revelation 21:5; Matthew 19:28-30

[2] “A soldier refrains from entangling himself with the affairs of this world” (2 Timothy 2:4)

[3] Compare 1 Samuel 14:1-4 with Judges 20:47.

[4] Romans 15:4

[5] 1 Samuel 17:29

[6] Jeremiah 29:7