God's heroes


Have you ever wondered why God called Paul? Many wonder about this. We read in the Gospels that Jesus had 12 disciples, yet later, after He rose from the dead, He called one more to follow him, and this person ended up writing nearly a third of the New Testament. And if we think about Paul’s team as a whole, then his contribution to bringing the revelation of God in written form was even greater, because Luke, the writer of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, was also part of his team.  Why did Jesus give such an important task to one single man? Isn’t it baffling that a single man that was not even part of the original 12 is suddenly given such a significant role?

Let’s take a trip back one thousand years earlier. Saul is king of Israel. He is Israel’s first king, chosen by God himself. He belongs to the tribe of Benjamin. He is a complex character, who has many good characteristics but a number of weaknesses as well. He also has a son named Jonathan, who is one of the greatest characters in the Bible. Jonathan trusts in God and he is exceedingly brave. At one point, Jonathan acts heroically when, together with only his shield bearer, he climbs up to engage with the enemy lookouts, entrusting himself to God. He not only defeats them, but also through his example brings about the victory of Israel over its enemies at that time.  One could imagine that with this act alone Jonathan had clearly earned for himself his place as heir to the throne. Probably everyone thought the same, except one person: Jonathan himself.

Another young man, David, also performs a heroic act by defeating Goliath. This heroic act leads to an even greater victory. These two brave men become friends, and this friendship between them is so profound that the Bible says that Jonathan loved David more that his own soul. Jonathan is also incredibly selfless. He recognises that God’s call to kingship and the establishment of the royal line belongs to his friend, not to him. He seeks in every way to protect and to promote the success of David. It is hard to imagine how a person could be at the same time so brave and also so selfless in their love. Jonathan is indeed one of the greatest characters in the Bible.

Saul, however, hates David and tries to kill him. But Jonathan saves David’s life. Then comes the moment when these two friends part company for the last time. In their last meeting, before departing, these two soul friends make an eternal covenant with one another. David promises that he will take care of Jonathan’s descendants. Both of them know that David will in the end become king, and they agreed that either Jonathan or one of his descendants will become David’s right-hand man. David therefore, both as prophet and as establisher of the royal family, makes an eternal covenant with Jonathan and his descendants, and this was an everlasting promise. I repeat: an everlasting promise.

Saul continues to persecute David. He goes so far as to try and hunt him down even outside of Israel. Twice it happens that Saul tries to kill David, but David in fact comes across Saul when he is sleeping and chooses to spare his life. Both times, David asks Saul this weighty question:

Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?

Both times, Saul breaks down in tears and repents of his evil actions. Saul, like Jonathan, is able to see the call on David’s life, but unlike Jonathan he is not able to selflessly relinquish his own status.

Then war breaks out, and both Saul and Jonathan are killed. David becomes king, but Jonathan does not become his right-hand man. Nevertheless, David takes into his royal court Jonathan’s young son Mephibosheth, who was crippled since childhood. It is clear that this young boy did not become David’s right-hand man. The books of Chronicles list Jonathan’s descendants for a number of generations onwards, so we can see that the families of both David and Jonathan continued down through the generations. From David’s descendants, first Solomon and then others take their place as king, but Jonathan’s descendants are never mentioned at any point as being second-in-command in the royal court.

In God’s eyes, a thousand years are like a single day. One thousand years pass, and Jesus is born, the true king from the line of David to which all the promises pointed.  He is crowned in the end with a crown of thorns, He dies, and then He rises again. The promise to Jonathan, however, is still awaiting fulfilment.

A young, brave man has come to Jerusalem, a man with fire in his belly. He is of the tribe of Benjamin. Apparently, he was given the name Saul after his ancestor King Saul. To begin with, he continues in the footsteps of his ancestor. The first Saul persecuted David, the second Saul persecutes the son of David, Jesus, and is even willing to travel abroad to do it, just like the first Saul was. As he approaches Damascus, however, Jesus intervenes with the same words which David used one thousand years earlier:

Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?

Jesus personally appeared to Saul and said the same words that were used back then one thousand years before. Jesus even added that now it is Saul’s turn to suffer for Jesus, in the same way that David suffered because of Saul. Now, however, the reason for the suffering is love, not fear. Saul became a believer and found his calling. He became Jesus’s right-hand man, in accordance with the covenant made by David and Jonathan a thousand years earlier. Saul received a new name, Paul, and a calling to take the message of Jesus around the world. His character was in many ways similar to that of Jonathan. He laid all of his own endeavours aside and sought only to advance the kingship of Jesus. After his conversion, Paul was similar in many ways to Jonathan, who had lived one thousand years earlier.

In many ways, Jesus treated Paul like a little brother. Just as David had spent 14 years in the caves of Adullam being shaped into a future king, so Paul was 14 years in the city of Tarsus being matured and prepared for what Jesus had called him to.  Jesus also appeared to Paul personally so that his writings would be just as trustworthy as if Jesus himself had written them. The weapons of Saul, therefore, were left scattered on the battlefield. It is as if Jesus collected them up and then gave to Paul as his weapon a pen – the marks of which we now still continue to read.

It is also significant that Paul was of the tribe of Benjamin. As the youngest son, Benjamin was very dear both to Jacob and to all his brothers. Joseph had not necessarily even had a chance to meet Benjamin before he ended up in prison, yet he was the one that Joseph missed the most. Also, Judah was in the end willing to sacrifice himself so that Benjamin would not end up in prison. As the youngest brother, Benjamin symbolises Israel’s newest tribe, which is all of us non-Jews who have been adopted as children of God. Likewise, I believe that Paul is that twelfth apostle for whom Jesus had reserved the place that was left empty by Judas Iscariot. It is said that Matthias was chosen by lot to replace Judas. But I think that God in fact chose Paul to be the twelfth apostle, the apostle from the tribe of Benjamin.

What does this mean for you? You can see that God is incredibly faithful.  God can raise to life many things which you imagine have already been destroyed completely. Just as Paul himself writes:

‘For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.’

Eph 3:14-21

Have a blessed day. For those of you who have lost your way, may God raise to life his plan in your life as well.

Frank Hill