There is no such thing as a level playing field in the real world. Some of us win what I call the ovarian lottery when it comes to health, others when it comes to place of birth. Some of us have genes wired for height and attractiveness, while other babies might enter the world with outstanding artistic talent lurking in their chromosomes. Newborns do not choose their parents, yet our lives are tremendously influenced by those who conceived us.
The Bible usually provides meticulous detail about family. Twelve spies are sent to explore the land of Canaan—each is identified with his father’s name. (Numbers 11: 1-16) Betzalel is to be the Tabernacle’s craftsman? Not only are we told who his father is, but, in a way that is extremely common, also his grandfather. (Exodus 31:2)
This makes it all the odder that when we first meet King Saul’s son Jonathan, we’re not told who he is.
Saul picked 3,000 Israelites, of whom 2,000 were with Saul in Michmas and in the hill country of Bethel,
and 1,000 with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin;
the rest of the troops he sent back to their homes.
(I Samuel 13:2)
Only after King Saul has disobeyed the prophet Samuel and imperiled his kingdom, does Scripture inform us that Jonathan is the son of King Saul.
Saul and his son Jonathan, and the troops who remained with them, stayed in Geba of Benjamin,
while the Philistines were encamped at Michmas.
(I Samuel 13:16)
Shortly after that, Jonathan performs an act of both wisdom and courage, leading to terror and confusion in the Philistine ranks.
Saul and the troops with him assembled and rushed into battle; they found [the Philistines] in very great confusion, every man’s sword turned against his fellow.*
(I Samuel 14:20)
This is one of only two instances in all of Scripture where the phrase, “every man’s sword against his fellow” is used.
Here is the other:
For when the three hundred horns were sounded, the LORD turned every man’s sword against his fellow, throughout the camp, and the entire host fled as far as Beth-shittah and on to Zererah—
as far as the outskirts of Abel-meholah near Tabbath.*
When we are initially introduced to the hero of this incident, Gideon, we are told about his family. Yet the contrast to a royal prince could hardly be more striking. Gideon’s father is the most impoverished in his tribe and Gideon himself is the youngest of the sons. (Judges 6:15)
Why are these two men, seemingly so different, united by a rare Biblical phrase?
In the 2nd act of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, his character, Malvolio, proclaims this memorable truth: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”
Gideon, plucked from obscurity by God, had no reason to expect to be great. Jonathan’s royal parentage is omitted from when we first encounter him to indicate that, although “born great,” his distinction was not a result of being born the son of the king but was of his own doing.
Both these men stepped on the ladder of greatness by sowing internal discord in the ranks of their enemies. Although outnumbered and outflanked by their nation’s enemy, they both had complete faith in the rightness of their cause and their ability, with God’s help, to overcome their limitations. This moral spine of steel overwhelmed the opposition, leading the Midianites (Gideon) and Philistines (Jonathan) to turn upon and destroy themselves.
What a message to us! Each one of us must strive for greatness whether or not our backgrounds seem to predispose us to such or not. In our roles as parents, employers, citizens or friends, once we determine the right path, we should march ahead with steadfast determination. We mustn’t crumble or cower beneath opposition and we must never use the excuse of who our parents are to justify our being anything less than we can be.
A little boy whose seven siblings were each conceived by different men, none of whom was married to his mother, does not have the same chance in life as the eighth son of a couple whose long-term marriage is dedicated to raising their children. Those two boys are not competing on a level playing field. What is more, not only is the lifestyle of one boy’s mother and father far more helpful to him than that of the other boy, it is also far more beneficial to society. Family does matter. But your own actions matter even more.
*If you would like to see the phrases in the Hebrew using Rabbi Lapin’s recommended Bible: חרב איש ברעהו
Judges 7:22 – p. 762. Words 8, 9, and 10 in verse 22.
I Samuel 14:20 – p. 860. Words 12, 13, and 14, in verse 20.
חרב = sword
איש = man
ברעהו = against his fellow
3+ weeks to Chanuka – with its messages to all mankind. Be prepared.
Festival of Lights: Transform Your 24/7 Existence into a 25/8 Life
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