Fear of the Philistines blew through the Israelite army, driving the soldiers to hide in caves, bushes, ditches; anything to insulate them from the chilly breeze. Our anxious faces communicated the quivering of our hearts as we all glanced around for an intrepid leader, avoiding eye contact as if saying to each other, “I know something should be done, however, I cannot carry that burden.” Silent excuses scrolled through my mind as I placed my tongue between my teeth to keep the chattering to a minimum, my arms wrapped around myself to help my ribs expanded and contract smoothly, my thinly veiled panic apparent to all, however, no one could conceal their trepidation enough to fool us.
The sound of the philistine’s camp crowded the air like an impenetrable wall slowly collapsing and foreshadowing our future demise. Our ears hear a few rocks crumbling down the mountain, our heads spin to face the ruckus, our eyes follow a trail of dust to find Jonathan and his armor bearer scaling the side of rocks, our bodies lean towards him in questioning, our faces crumple at the thought of our prince going over to the camp of the Philistines and sealing his fate.
“Come! The LORD will give us the victory!” Jonathan shouts down. The leader we all wanted, do we now want to follow him? Our shock locked our joints and none of us moved as we watched his armor bearer climb the same path. We could hear that the Philistines see the pair and send a few soldiers to meet them with laughter. As the bewilderment wore off we knew we should follow Jonathan, yet again, shifting eyes avoiding each other wandered around our hiding spot as no one took the initiative to rise.
Jonathan strongly posed himself on the mountain with a confidence that in the moment could only be described as incredible. I felt his fearlessness radiating towards us, however, no movement from us could be seen. The helmet of a Philistine nearing the top of the mountain peered over the mountain ridge, the clan following him sounded like at least 20 men.
Suddenly, the shouts of alarm were not emitting from us. Jonathan and his man had struck down the Philistines who dared to climb the ridge. I felt a flicker of hope in my heart, but, I hid it and stamped it out because I didn’t want to seem ridiculous to my comrades. But, something was building in me, a warmth. I stifled it again. I looked around attempting to read the faces of those surrounding me.
I can see part of the Israelite army in the distance running across a field. I squint my eyes to see where they are running too.
“The Philistines are on the run!”
That sentence was the kindling my heart could not deny and a fire jumped into me, the first easy breath filled my lungs as I paused to look around. I saw the fire of hope on the other faces and when victory became obvious we hurdled out of our hiding spot to pursue the Philistines through the woods.
Afterwards, as stories whirled around the country of Jonathan’s bravery and the defeat of the Philistines I felt a sorrow. The exciting news only reminded me of how fear controlled me, how I hid during a time of war; instead of fighting the enemy I fought the desire in my heart to charge. I should have followed Jonathan, I should have followed the passion that rose up within me, I denied leadership multiple times and looked around to others. I only joined the fight when an obvious victory compelled me. My ears hear the stories, my head falls because the regret is too much, my eyes feel the painful tears of apology, my body feels the tension of an intense sorrow. I want to imagine it differently and my shifting eyes try to avoid my comrades but nothing can mask our sorrow.
This story from 1 Samuel 14 tells us about the Israelite army and their battle against the Philistines. The main character waits to fight until the fight is almost over. It is not my intention for this to be a guilt trip, rather a call to action, an invitation to join the fight for the unreached people groups. Just as Jonathan shouts, “Come! The Lord will give us victory!” Jesus has said, “Go! I am with you always!” Just as the main character sees a group racing across the field in pursuit, there are some who have already charged into prayer or charged into a people group. Generations of missionaries and Christians have already set the pace for us in this time. Now is when we, like those before us, must choose to join and chase or stay.