Category Archives: Warfare

When the world is topsy-turvy

I’m sitting by her in my usual spot. She’s had a worse day than usual. She has more pain than I have ever known, and she lives with it constantly.

We heard of a treatment that we are going to try, if we are accepted. The details don’t matter.

The question is this: what happens when you are out of options? At what point do we say, “This is all we can do.”

Do we just live with it? What if this treatment doesn’t work? There are other possibilities. What if they don’t work.

What if…

What if…

What if…

And then we read this:

As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything. (Ecc 11:5 ESV)

There is so little that we know, as humans on this earth. We can’t figure out the most basic things. The other night, I realized that I have never even seen my own back. Mirrors don’t count – they’re backwards. (My wife tells me that this is why I don’t sleep).

If we can’t know how bones form, how the little life is formed in the womb; if we don’t know the simplest things of this life, how can we know the future?

I think this is why God forbids us to worry. It’s really idolatry. We pretend that we have access to that which God alone knows. He tells us instead to trust.

So we’ll trust. We’ll place ourselves in His hands.

We know that he didn’t spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all. We know that he will not forsake us, or ever leave us.

And here, on this earth, that is enough. The day will come when this curse will be taken away, and there will be no more tears.

Until that day, we’ll go one day at a time. Solomon goes on to say,

In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good. (Ecc 11:6 ESV)

We’ll continue to do what God has given us to do and take one morning and one evening at a time. I’ll try to write when I can. I’ll prepare sermons beside the bed. I’ll counsel from my phone. I’ll help wherever I can.

But tomorrow is too big for me. I better leave that in the hands of the one who died for me, and rose from the dead, who promised to walk with me, even through the valley of the shadow of death.

And the day will come when we will both be at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

That’s enough for me to know right now.

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Alone?

2 Kings 6:1-23

The Syrian army was brutal. Their oppression of God’s people was relentless and cruel. The helpless were carried away captive; the poor and the weak were the first victims.

Like a lion, the devil’s army seeks to separate the weak from the herd and then go in for the kill. The tactic is very successful. This was also practiced by the Syrian army. Divide and destroy. Pick off the weak.

Even though Israel had a wicked king who refused to bend the knee to the God of Israel, the LORD still had pity on his people. When Ben-Hadad, king of the Syrians, would plan a secret raid on an unprotected village, God would tell his prophet Elisha of the plan and Elisha would warn the armies of Israel. The villages would be spared. But Ben-Hadad was convinced that there was a traitor in his inner circle.

When Ben-Hadad found out that there was a lone voice protecting the weak from destruction, he set his mind on destroying that voice. He sent his armies to destroy Elisha so that he could continue his policy of destruction, lies, and oppression unhindered.

But God had other plans.

The Syrian army approached Elisha’s village. The thundering of the feet, the shouts of the commanders, the snorting of the horses, the clanging chariots. How terrifying for Elisha!

Elisha’s servant goes outside and sees the tremendous army surrounding the village and is overcome with fear. “Alas, Master, what shall we do?”

Have you felt that same fear? Have you felt surrounded on every side, utterly alone and forsaken?

Has a well-meaning friend said, “Don’t worry. God won’t give you more than you can handle”? You know better, don’t you?

The fact is this: the armies of Syria were far, far greater than Elisha and his one servant could handle.

And the armies of the world, the devil and our own flesh are far, far greater than we can ever handle. Our enemies are fierce and relentless.

But then look at what Elisha says,

16 And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. (2Ki 6:16)

Let those words sink in your ears. Meditate on them in your night terrors. When you are forsaken and alone, remember them.

Those who seek your life to destroy you are strong, relentless and fearless. They are greater than you can bear.

But fear not. There are more with you than there are with them.

Elisha’s servant responded like all of us do. He counted what he could see. Two. There’s two of us. Now, Elisha, look at the chariots, the horsemen, the cavalry, the infantry. Are we having math issues here?

No. We aren’t having a problem with math. We are having a problem with perception.

17 And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha. (2Ki 6:17 KJV)

And you may say to yourself – well, that’s Old Testament. I’m not Elisha. But the inspired author isn’t just relation history, he is also relating theology. The fact is this: Christian, there are ALWAYS more with us than there are with them, and the scripture is full of this. Look at this sampling of passages:

17 The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place.
18 Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them.
19 Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. (Psa 68:17-19 KJV)

You, Little One, you are not powerless; you are not weak; you are not alone. You are in Christ, the king of kings and lord of lords. He is the creator and sustainer of the universe and the captain of the Lord’s army.

His name is the Lord of Hosts. That is, the Lord of Armies. He is the commander of the Lord’s army, which ever surrounds each of us, for he knows us by name.

There are indeed more with us than there are with them.

11 For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
12 They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. (Psa 91:11-12 KJV)

For this reason it is a terrible thing to hurt and have contempt for any member of Christ’s church, for he takes it very personally.

10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. (Mat 18:10 KJV)

And when it is our Master’s will to call us home, we don’t even do that alone, but are carried into heaven in the arms of the angels of God.

22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; (Luk 16:22 KJV)

So quit doing math with the eyes of the world. You may feel lonely, and despised, and rejected. You may think that there is no one else, that you alone bear your burden. You may feel as if you enemies have gone over your head and that this battle is too great for you.

And you would be right. The battle is too great. But there are always more that are with you than are with them.

God would have us lift our eyes to his throne room, where Christ is seated. There we see that we are not alone in worship, in love, in adoration. Our voices are joined by the angels, prophets, apostles, martyrs and all who have claimed the name of Christ:

9 And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;
10 And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
11 And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;
12 Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.
13 And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
14 And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever. (Rev 5:9-14 KJV)

So take courage, Little One. Lift your eyes up where the Lord of Hosts is. He reigns forever and ever, and there are always more with you than with them. The destiny of the serpent and his followers is eternal destruction. But your home is with Jesus forever. Who can separate us from his love.

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On Suffering and Bruised Heels

I recently read again God’s curse upon the serpent in the Garden of Eden:

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel (Genesis 3:15).

This verse is known in theology as the “protoevangelium” – the first proclamation of the gospel. In the context, the serpent has beguiled Eve and she gave the fruit of the forbidden tree to Adam, and he ate of it contrary to God’s word. In separating himself from God, mankind made a covenant with death. He chose fellowship with the devil rather than fellowship with God.

In this first proclamation of the gospel, one thing sticks out at you. The gospel was first spoken as a curse upon the serpent. Men and women were not created originals. they were created to be image bearers of God. When they disobeyed God, they made a league with the devil and became enslaved to the kingdom of the devil and all the sin, misery and death that are operative in this kingdom. Being in bondage, man cannot free himself. In order for there to be good news for man, the power of the devil must be broken. God promises the serpent that his kingdom will not last; his head will be bruised; there will always be a remnant – a “seed” – who will be at war with the serpent’s seed.

We know, having the complete revelation of God, that this defeat of Satan came at the hands of the True Seed of the Woman, our Lord Jesus. But how was this victory achieved? Jesus defeated the devil, not with armies and weapons, but by suffering the death of the cross. The covenant with death must be broken, and it could only be broken when it was carried out. So the Son of God tasted death for man that the power of death might be broken.

14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; 15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage (Hebrews 2:14-15).

The crushing of the head of the devil bruises the heel of the Warrior. Notice what Hebrews says. Through suffering the death of the cross – seemingly the defeat of the Seed – the warrior destroyed the devil (him who had the power of death).

This is central to our faith. We do not pity the One on the Cross, we marvel at His love for us! We wonder at the power of the one who entered into battle with death and conquered it! Jesus was not a passive victim on the cross, carried away by circumstances out of His control. Rather He was a conquering hero, waging war against the kingdom of the devil, casting out the Strong Man, and ushering in the kingdom of Heaven. And He will reign until He has put all enemies under His feet!

This is also the same Lord who says to each one of us, “Take up your cross and follow me.”

Being united to Christ, we also do battle with the kingdom of the devil. Being united to Christ, we are assured victory. And being united to Christ, the war will also bruise our heels.

This changes how we should view suffering. We too often ask the wrong questions and miss the point. We ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” “If God loves me, why are there so many difficulties in life?” “Does God have a purpose in suffering? What is that purpose?”

When we suffer – chronic, unrelenting pain; reproach and insults; doubts; illness; battles with our sinful nature; persecution – it is natural to wonder why.

Why do Christians suffer so much in this world?

Because they are doing battle with the devil. Because they belong to Jesus Christ. Because they are conquering heroes in Christ. Because the devil never lets go of his kingdom without bruising the heel. When the heel is bruised, Satan’s head is crushed.

What a wonderful thought! Our suffering is not simply meaningless. It isn’t because God is angry with us. It isn’t because God won’t interfere with man’s free will (what hogwash!). It is because we are doing battle with the devil and we are winning.

The devil was in his greatest danger when Jesus was in his greatest pain. When Jesus gave up the ghost, the devil’s power was destroyed. It is one of the greatest paradoxes of our faith. Jesus defeated the greatest created power by becoming weak, hungry, tired, despised. He crushed Satan’s head by obedience to the death of the cross as a common criminal.

He calls us, as Christians, to take up that cross and follow. As the hymn says, “We are soldiers of the cross.” As “little Christs” (Christians) we follow our Lord. The path to resurrection and victory is through suffering and death, for from the very beginning, God purposed to destroy the kingdom of Satan by bruising the heel of the Seed of the Woman, and we are all partakers with Christ in His death as well as His victory.

For this reason, God promises the church in Rome that He will bruise Satan under their feet (Romans 16:20). The church was suffering, as it always had. But God promised them that something far greater was going on. Satan was being put under their feet!

Why did their feet hurt? Because they were crushing Satan’s head.

Why do we suffer on this earth? Because in our suffering we are destroying the power of the devil.

Don’t view your hard times as signs of God’s displeasure. Instead view them as opportunities to crush Satan’s head. You are doing battle with an ancient enemy and you WILL prevail by the power of Jesus, who has already assured the victory.

But it will bruise your heel. You will walk with an uplifted head, a song in your heart, a glitter in the eye, and a limp in the feet.

And the God of Peace will bruise Satan’s head under that bruised heel. It’s a promise.

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In Defense of Barak

Judges is one of those books that you have perhaps read through once or twice in you life.  You are more likely, however, to have heard the stories from Sunday School from long ago.  The stories are so familiar to us that even when we read through them we rarely take the time to think about them.  We just give them a once over and then move to the New Testament.

What do you remember about Barak? If it isn’t ringing any bells, try Deborah and Barak.

Oh, yeah.  He was that guy that was too afraid to go to battle unless Deborah went with him.

Now you may remember the account.  It might be helpful for you to read Judges 4 again.  I can wait.

Israel again did evil in God’s sight, and God sold them into the hands of Jaban and Sisera.  Sisera was an extremely powerful general. We can’t possibly imagine the power of 900 chariots in this day of smart bombs and fighter jets, but in Barak’s time, the army was impossible to defeat, especially since Israel didn’t have any weapons at all (See Deborah’s song in Judges 5:8).

But even greater than that: this oppression was of the Lord. Who can fight against the Lord? Since it was God Himself who sold Israel into bondage, only God could deliver them.

Now Deborah is introduced (4:4).  All we know about her is that she was a “prophetess” who judged Israel.  At this point, most of what you have heard is a defense of God using women to lead men. It was because the men were so weak and cowardly that God cursed them with women leaders.

Perhaps. But that isn’t in the text. I would rather have you read simply what is there.  All that the text tells us is that Deborah was a prophetess and that she judged Israel at the time.

Then Deborah receives word from God to call Barak and send him into battle against Sisera.

Barak responds, “If you go with me, I will go.  If not, I will not go.”

Most of the Sunday School accounts of this end here, with an admonition not to be as cowardly as Barak.  He has gone down in history as the one who was so frightened of battle that he refused to go to battle unless a woman went with him. My study bible has the footnote “a faithless and cowardly response.”

But let’s pause there for a moment and look ahead a few verses:

13 And Sisera gathered together all his chariots, even nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people that were with him, from Harosheth of the Gentiles unto the river of Kishon.

14 And Deborah said unto Barak, Up; for this is the day in which the Lord hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the Lord gone out before thee? So Barak went down from mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him.

Picture the scene.  Barak has gathered together 10,000 men. Remember that they have no weapons. Sisera sees them at the top of Mt. Tabor and gathers his chariots and armies together at the foot of the mountain.

At the top of the mountain – Barak, Deborah, and 10,000 unarmed farmers.  At the foot of the mountain, 900 iron chariots, a multitude of trained, armed men.

The plan is for Barak and the farmers to charge down the mountain. Let that sink in for a moment.

Now Deborah receives word from God. She says to Barak, “Now. God has given them into your hand.”

And they go!

And they go!

They charge down the mountain, and God gives the entire army into their hands.

As I was reading through this again, it occurred to me that perhaps in our zeal to keep women from getting uppity, we have misread Barak.  The man at the top of Mt. Tabor didn’t seem like a coward to me.  I understand that it is the Lord that gives men and women courage and perhaps the complete change in Barak’s personality was a miraculous intervention of God.  But rather than go that route right away, I looked at the passage again with fresh eyes, and saw something astounding.

Barak was not at all a faithless coward. Rather than a statement of unbelief, his statement – “If you go with me, I will go” – is one of the most astounding professions of faith in scripture and should be an example to us all – which is actually what the writer of Hebrews says of Barak.

This, I understand, will need some explaining.  First, remember who Deborah was.  She was a prophetess.  Barak couldn’t run down to the local Walmart in Bethel and buy a 5.99 bible.  Revelation was not complete at this time.  They had the books of Moses, but those would not have been accessible to the general public. They would have known the 10 commandments, but other than that, where would one go for the word of God?

They could go only one place: Deborah. She WAS the word of God to Israel. She was a prophetess and all Israel knew it and came to her for judgment.  She would not have been a political leader, for Jaban would never have allowed it. Israel’s politics were dominated by Canaanites and their religion was corrupted by idolatry. The word of God to Israel was found in only one place: Deborah.

Barak was not at all expecting Deborah to fight the battle for him, or even with him.  Deborah stayed at the top of Mt. Tabor. Barak went into battle.

But Barak knew something most of us miss. The battle is too great. Our armies are too small. If we will conquer at all, we DARE not take one step without the word of God.

Barak, rather than being a coward, was a man of tremendous faith who refused to take one step against the enemy without God’s word. And God’s word was found in only one place: Deborah.

So Barak would rather be slandered as a weak and cowardly man and take Deborah with him than go in his own strength against an enemy that was too strong for him.

 

I realize that you are probably frantically re-reading this chapter, and have come to verse 9.

9 And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.

        This is immediately read as a rebuke to Barak.  Of course, our natural understanding tells us that Barak would want honor for the victory and it is shameful for God to bring victory through a woman. So we can’t see it any other way than as a rebuke.

        But is that really what she says? Once again, I would encourage you to read it from the perspective of all of scripture.

        God will never give his glory to another. Since the Garden of Eden, we all have been sold into a bondage so deep and so cruel that none of us can ever escape it. And God promised Adam and Eve that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent.

        The fact is – God ALWAYS delivers his people in such a way that the strong, powerful and wise can never, ever take the glory.

        Deborah is actually clarifying the choice for Barak.  “You can go in your own strength, in your own wisdom and seek glory – but without God. Or you can submit to God’s word and expect victory from him alone.”

        “I, the prophetess of God, will certainly go with you. And with me will go the word and blessing of God. But if God fights this battle, you won’t get the glory. God will deliver you at the hand of a woman, so that no one can ever say that Barak’s strength got us the victory.”

        “If, Barak, you want glory, then go get your glory.  I’ll stay here – and the word of God will stay with me. You do the best you can against all of those iron chariots and we’ll see what happens.”

        Do you see the choice that Barak had?  It is the same choice that we all face every day. The enemy is too strong for us. The battle is too fierce.  We can take up our arms and our wisdom and our pride and fight manfully onward – just like the sons of Sceva did (Acts 19:14-16) – and take our chances.

        Or, we can say with Barak – I won’t move a step apart from God’s word and I don’t care what anyone else says about me or who gets the glory.  But as soon as God says “Charge!” I’m charging full-bore right into the battle!

        We spend so much time reading what ISN’T here, that we miss the point of the account entirely.  This passage says nothing whatsoever about women in positions of leadership in the church or elsewhere. If you want to find out about women in positions of authority in the church, look at 1 Cor. 14:34; 2 Tim. 2:11-15.  This passage has nothing to do with that.

        But if you want to know how to do valiant battle against the evil one, who seeks to destroy us daily, you will find no better example than Barak.

        You wouldn’t go into battle without a sword. The only sword that will do any good at all in the battle that we are in is the word of God (Eph. 6:17).  Barak was wise enough to arm himself with the sword.

        Are we?

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