1 Samuel 19:1-10 (Part 5) – Jonathan’s Choice and The Modern Elimination of Hell

Posted: March 8, 2018 in 09-1 Samuel
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1 Samuel 19:1-10 (Part 5 of 6)
Saul Tries to Kill David

In this series of blogs, we are talking about the false teachings of the Christian faith that are prevalent today. Today, we will look at a doctrine that we have virtually gotten rid of in Christianity in the post-modern era (the world as we know it since the end of World War II).

I will introduce this foreign concept to us with a bold statement. Let’s bring hell back! Such a statement seems a shocking one to the 21st century ear, even those who considered themselves Christians.

The existence of and doctrine surrounding hell is no longer a universally accepted concept among Christians and Jews much less those of other religions or of those who hold no religious beliefs at all. It is not surprising that in an increasingly secular American landscape that only 27% of people who consider themselves non-religious believe in the existence of a place of eternal punishment in the afterlife, according the 2015 Religious Landscape Study performed by Pew Research Center. Overall, only 58% of all survey respondents (including religious and non-religious alike) believe in the existence of hell.

Even among Christians, the statistic vary. Belief in hell is not universally accepted by Christians in the 21st century. Although belief in hell is highest among historically black Protestant churches (82%) and evangelical Protestant churches (likewise 82%), the belief level drops to 63% among Catholics, 60% among mainline Protestants, and 59% of Orthodox Christians. It was also noted in the survey that only 22% of the Jewish respondents believe in hell. Among other religions, 76% of Muslims surveyed believe in hell while not surprisingly Buddhists and Hindus surveyed affirmed the existence of hell at a rate of 32% and 28% respectively. It is worthy of noting that more non-religious respondents believe in hell (27%) than the Jews surveyed (22%). The alarming point here is that, depending on your denomination of Christianity, a pastor can look out over his congregation on Sunday and find that anywhere from one-fifth to half of his parishioners do not believe in the existence of hell. As noted earlier, outside the doors of the church, it can be extrapolated that three-fourths of the people one meets on the street do not believe in hell. One can discount the non-believer being dismissive of hell as it would be opposed his firm belief in the lack of existence of God, would dismiss his belief in moral relativism, would dismiss his belief that man controls his own destiny, and would dismiss an everyman’s ticket, where we are judged on the weight of good deeds plus good intentions to outweigh our negative nature. When deeds and intentions are weighed against our bad deeds, then, most if not all of us will ascend to some sort of nirvanic afterlife (which we will talk about tomorrow). This sentiment, we can dismiss as the product of human pride that blinds us to our own ignorance in the face of God.

That idea of the elimination of hell from our theological lexicon is what came to mind this morning when read through this passage about the choice that Jonathan had to make – to be obedient to his father or to honor his friendship with David, to follow his father’s command which was not biblical or to follow that which was right and true according to God. Jonathan was being asked by his father to ignore a biblical truth because it was inconvenient to his father, Saul. Expediency was most important to Saul not what was biblically and universally true according to God’s Word. That kind of thinking is what has become of the concept of hell in Christian theology today. With that idea in mind let us read about the choice that Jonathan had to make:

Chapter 19
1 Saul now urged his servants and his son Jonathan to assassinate David. But Jonathan, because of his strong affection for David, 2 told him what his father was planning. “Tomorrow morning,” he warned him, “you must find a hiding place out in the fields. 3 I’ll ask my father to go out there with me, and I’ll talk to him about you. Then I’ll tell you everything I can find out.”

4 The next morning Jonathan spoke with his father about David, saying many good things about him. “The king must not sin against his servant David,” Jonathan said. “He’s never done anything to harm you. He has always helped you in any way he could. 5 Have you forgotten about the time he risked his life to kill the Philistine giant and how the Lord brought a great victory to all Israel as a result? You were certainly happy about it then. Why should you murder an innocent man like David? There is no reason for it at all!”

6 So Saul listened to Jonathan and vowed, “As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be killed.”

7 Afterward Jonathan called David and told him what had happened. Then he brought David to Saul, and David served in the court as before.

8 War broke out again after that, and David led his troops against the Philistines. He attacked them with such fury that they all ran away.

9 But one day when Saul was sitting at home, with spear in hand, the tormenting spirit[a] from the Lord suddenly came upon him again. As David played his harp, 10 Saul hurled his spear at David. But David dodged out of the way, and leaving the spear stuck in the wall, he fled and escaped into the night.

In this passage, we are challenged by the fact that Saul commands his son, Jonathan, to commit an act that is clearly unbiblical and is clearly against the nature of God. Jonathan had a choice to make. He had to decide whether what his father commanded him to do was consistent with Scripture and with the nature of God. Jonathan was wise enough to understand the difference between obeying a parent’s command and violating God’s law. Our parents should be teaching us and commanding us to do only that which is consistent with Scripture. In general, not just as children of our parents, we must be discerning about what we hear from others as biblical truth compared to the actual Word of God. If someone omits a portion of the full counsel of God’s Word just to make a biblical truth more palatable or more expedient, we must be discerning about those things too.

Saul thought like many of us today that there was no real punishment for evil deeds as long as we do more than we do bad. He seemed to think that doing evil could be offset by good deeds. All we have to do is do more good. Then, we become the judge of our goodness or badness, and, of course, we are always going to come down on the side of us being good enough or having done good enough or having done less bad than good. We are the judge of our own judgment – the fox in charge of the hen house, so to speak. Saul had situational ethics here in this passage. He thinks like many of us think. He, by his actions, appears to believe that there is no real judgment for his evil deeds and all he has to do is make up for it with a prayer here, a good deed there, a promise to God there, a ceremonial sacrifice here. He, in a sense, made himself the judge of his own fate. Jonathan had to decide whether he was going to follow his father’s belief system or follow the moral absolutes and the eternal truths of God.

In the absence of hell, we are certainly the arbiters of our own eternal fate. In the absence of hell, there is no one who judges us. In the absence of hell, God is only love but not justice. Most of us in the 21st century world have a problem with final judgment and hell. The loss of the doctrine of hell and judgment and the holiness of God does irreparable damage to our deepest comforts—our understanding of God’s grace and love and of our human dignity and value to him. The gutting of the harsh doctrine of hell always minimizes the wonderful good news of the gospel. To preach the good news, we must preach why it is good news. We must understand why the gospel is the essential good news and that nothing else but Jesus will do.

The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ because of the true nature of man and what that true nature garners us in eternity. In a post-modern non-traditional world, we see ourselves as basically good people. However, the truth of the matter is that none of us are good at all. Have you ever really took notice of all the evil thoughts, the little lies, the outright lies, the meanness that comes out in us each and every day in one form or another. We believe that it requires goodness to get to heaven and that if we just do more good than bad that we will get into heaven. We don’t realize that like an ink drop into a glass of water permanently changes and stains the water irreversibly, so is committing any sin. Sin is imperfection when compared to the holiness of God. One drop of ink in a glass of pure water does it all. The same with sin. We commit one sin and we are done. It is the ultimate one and done scenario.

However, we are not just one-time sinners. We are habitual sin criminals that have been through the sin court system far too often. We sin every day like a common thief who steals something every day. We have a rap sheet a mile long of a lifetime of sins. We deserve the punishment of a career criminal in the court system having committed heinous crime after heinous crime. Our record belies anything that we can say in our defense before the righteous Judge that is God. We deserve hell. We really do. Once we commit one sin we are done, finished, not to mention a lifetime of habitual sinning. We kid ourselves that we are more good than bad because we don’t want to think of the fact that we tell lies, we hurt people, we lie to ourselves, we offend God each and every day with our prideful sinning. We are career sin criminals standing before a righteous Judge who looks at our record and has every right to throw the eternal judgment of hell at us. We deserve it. We have no excuse. No quippy comebacks. No way to talk ourselves out of what we deserve. We deserve the fiery pits of hell where Jesus said there was pain, sorrow, weeping, and the gnashing of teeth. It is the place of eternal suffering.

The very realness of hell is what make Jesus Christ so incredibly important to us. He is more than just some great philosopher that is one of the many ways of self-actualization and self-improvement. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the only way to the Father. Without the doctrine of hell, Jesus is just a way to self-improvement along with Muhammed, Buddha, Confucius, and others. With the doctrine of hell, Jesus is our Savior. Jesus as part of the Holy Trinity of God came down from heaven to live a perfect life and become the sinless sacrifice for our sins. He went to the cross to take on God’s eternal punishment for man’s sins, past, present and future. And to prove that He was of one and the same essence as God, He arose from the dead. By dying on the cross and by arising from the dead (all of which are historical facts that have yet to be realistically disputed), Jesus demonstrated that He was the Son of God and that He did indeed die for our sins.

Jesus doing these things would be unnecessary, truly, in the absence of what he did it for – to save us from our eternal judgment. In the absence of hell, Jesus did not need to come down from heaven and suffer as he did for us. All we need do is do is more good than bad. Jesus’ sacrifice would be the grandest excess of all in the absence of eternal judgment, in the absence of hell.

That is what makes or should make Christians the most joyous people in the universe. We have been saved from what we know as hell. The fiery pits of eternal punishment we know that we deserve. We have had our blinders taken off and see ourselves as the dirty rotten sinners that we are. The grace of Jesus Christ then becomes amazingly wonderful and just the greatest gift that could ever be given – the pardon from the fiery eternal death that we deserve. How can you have this joy when there is no judgment, there is no hell. We have been saved from what we know we deserve!

That makes Jesus even more awesome that just some great philosopher. It makes Him the Savior to whom we owe everything and to whom we owe all thanksgiving and daily praise and great joy.

That is the eternal truth of the gospel. That is the Jonathan choice. That is to walk away from the situational truths of Saul and embrace the eternal truths of God.

Amen and Amen.

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