Living Theology | 1 Samuel 14
Living Theology is a blog series that draws out the theological principles of each week's sermon text and thinks through how we can apply them to our personal lives. In other words, this series asks how we can live out the theology of Scripture each day.
Sermon Text: 1 Samuel 14
You can listen to Pastor Brian's sermon on 1 Samuel 14 here.
In this chapter we see the continuation of Saul's downfall. Saul makes several bad decisions that lead to danger for Israel. First, notice the circumstances of the oath that he compels his troops to swear. They are not to eat anything "until I have taken vengeance on my enemies" (1 Samuel 14:24, NIV, emphasis added). Saul is consumed with avenging himself rather than serving his people and his God.
Second, when Saul heard about the people eating meat with blood still in it, something that the LORD had commanded his people not to do (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 3:17; 7:26; 17:10-16), he unjustly demands the life of his own son, Jonathan. It's a move eerily similar to the vow of Jephthah in Judges 11:29-40. God's people actually have to step in on behalf of Jonathan and ransom him from the penalty of death (1 Samuel 14:45). The story does not tell us exactly how the Israelites ransomed Jonathan (although the Greek version of this story indicates that they prayed for him), but God obviously accepted this ransom because we are told that Jonathan did not die.
Theological Principle #1:
Disobeying God leads to disaster.
In his sermon, Pastor Brian described several consequences of disobedience:
Disobedience alienates personal relationships
Disobedience breeds disorder in our lives
Disobedience results in silence from God
In 1 Samuel 13, we saw that Saul broke the commandment of the LORD by offering a burnt offering before the appointed time. When Samuel found out what Saul had done, he told Saul that God would now appoint another man to be ruler over his people. We see some of the disastrous effects of Saul's disobedience in 1 Samuel 14.
Saul's personal relationships are affected. He is now advised by Ahijah rather than Samuel, who had been with Saul since his anointing. Saul is also at odds with his own son, going so far as to require his death! Can you think of a time when disobedience to God affected your own personal relationships? Obviously, when someone sins against someone else, that relationship is going to be affected. But this passage illustrates the greater reality that our sin against God even affects our relationships with those that we have not sinned against. This is one reason why accountability in the church is so important. When we allow sin to go un-diagnosed, unaddressed, and un-dealt with, it will eventually cause conflict within our relationships among other believers. In the church, there is really no such thing as private sin. There is no such thing as sin that doesn't hurt anyone else. When any member of the body is unfaithful to God, it jeopardizes the whole body. This is because of the unity that we have in Christ. We stand together, and we stumble together. Church discipline is not a popular practice in much of contemporary evangelicalism. But it is the means by which the church holds one another accountable to God and prevents sin from taking hold and festering within the body. Discipline can be painful, so the easy path is often to ignore the sin when we don't think it's very significant (and sometimes even when we do think it is significant). I can tell you that, even as a pastor, it's not easy to confront someone about their sin. But we have to do it. We all have to do it—not just for the sake of the one in sin, but for the sake of all who are in a personal relationship with that person, not least of all those in our local congregation. How is sin affecting your personal relationships this week? What Samuels has God placed in your life to warn you against disobedience, and how might you be ignoring them?
Saul also encounters disorder and chaos as a result of his disobedience. Things don't work out the way they are supposed to. Saul is supposed to be the leader of God's people Israel, but it's Jonathan who seems to be the one fighting back against Israel's enemies. While Jonathan has some success against the Philistines, Saul himself would continue to battle them for the rest of his reign. There are obvious differences between the situation of the Israelites in 1 Samuel 14 and our own situation as followers of Jesus today. Christ has fulfilled the role that Saul failed in. Christ has become the true Ruler of God's people. He is the one who wages war against those who oppose God and his people. The battle that we wage day-to-day is not, as Paul says, "against flesh and blood" (Ephesians 6:12). Rather our battle is against the power of sin and death in the world and within ourselves. And the primary way that we defeat this power is by killing sin within ourselves and by reminding the world that through the death and resurrection of Christ God calls us to back to himself, offering us true and eternal life. We are the vessels of the Holy Spirit of God, which he has sent into the world to restore order to the chaos that sin and disobedience have wreaked. But when we ourselves, and even more so when our congregations, are beset by sin, how can we carry out the ministry of reconciliation and restoration to which he has called us? When we fail to deal with our own disobedience, we are actually working counter to the purposes of God, not only in our own lives but also in the world. How has sin caused disorder in your own life? How is sin, either your own or someone else's, currently causing chaos in your world?
Finally, and maybe most starkly, Saul's disobedience results in silence from God. When Ahijah prompts Saul to approach God before presuming to wage a campaign against the Philistines, Saul concedes. But he gets no response from God. There is sin in the way. And Saul knows that this sin must be exposed, addressed, and dealt with. Can you think of a time when disobeying God resulted in you feeling separated from him, where you felt like he wasn't there or he wasn't listening? Do you feel this way now? Do you feel like God is ignoring you or not responding in some way? Is there some disobedience in your life that is getting in the way?
Maybe not. Disobedience is not the only time that God's people feel this way. The Psalms are filled with frustrated cries to God from righteous sufferers. Think of Job. Where was his disobedience? Where was his answer? It finally came, but God did not respond right away. Silence from God does not always mean that we have disobeyed. But it is always prudent to ask ourselves whether it is God who has wandered from us or we who have wondered from God.
Theological Principle #2:
God's people have a right and a duty to respond when their leaders are unfaithful to God.
We'll end with this final but important point. God's people are not innocent here. They had just broken the commandment of the LORD by eating meat with blood still in it. Even Jonathan wasn't completely innocent. He doesn't seem to do anything to stop the people from breaking this command. Nevertheless, God's people recognize that Saul has disobeyed God and that he is putting them in danger. And they recognize that it is unjust for him to demand the life of Jonathan, his son. So they step up. They don't let this spiral on. To be sure, God's people don't always hold their leaders accountable. But that doesn't mean that they shouldn't. God's people have a right to speak out when their leaders are in sin and disobedience. Moreover, they have a duty, for the sake of the people that these leaders may put in danger, to stand up to unfaithfulness. Now there are certainly more efficient ways and less efficient ways to hold leaders accountable. And the careless assertion that doing it poorly is better than not doing it at all is unwise. There are reasons why it may be more difficult to take a Matthew 18 approach with our leaders than it is with others, but that doesn't mean we can be reckless when confronting anyone's sin. Leaders are, after all, presumably still brothers and sisters, and we owe them a loving accountability. But believers are neither unqualified nor unauthorized to acknowledge and even confront sin in a thoughtful manner. Have you ever felt unqualified to or even suppressed from acknowledging disobedience from a leader? Have you yourself ever been in a situation where your own disobedience has endangered those whom God has entrusted to you, perhaps your family or your children? What can the church do to make it easier for God's people to hold their leaders accountable? And what can the church do to make it easier for leaders to acknowledge and repent of their disobedience?