Chariots of Iron

I was reading from the book of Judges today, and a curious phrase jumped out at me. The entire book of Judges is filled with the failure of the people of Israel to fully claim their promised inheritance from God. Generation after generation passes, with a cycle of sin, enslavement, and deliverance as God raises up various judges and heroes, like Gideon, Deborah, or Samson.

Already in chapter one, there is a hint of the trouble to come. The book begins with several successful battles after the death of Joshua. The people of Israel consult the Lord, who fights with them in several key battles. But in verse 19, it says: “The Lord was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had iron chariots.”

Say what? The Lord was with the men of Judah– the LORD! They had taken possession of the hill country– rough terrain that would have been filled with natural barriers, rocky fortresses, and literal “uphill battles.” They had destroyed massive cities like Jericho less than a generation before. They had defeated armies far larger and better positioned. They had defeated giants! And now, suddenly, they are “unable” to drive the people from the plains– because the enemy had chariots of iron?

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https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/judges-1-19.html I think this commentary says it well. The chariots of iron became the excuse for the Israelites’ unwillingness to obey; to trust in God’s strength instead of their own. After all, it wasn’t that long before in their history when God had drowned the entire Egyptian army, including all its chariots, in the Red Sea.

I don’t think it was about the chariots of iron. I think it was about the plains. I think sometimes it can be more difficult to fight on “the plains.” When God sends us on an “impossible” mission, we must face our own fears and acknowledge our weaknesses– we KNOW we cannot do it in our own power. But when we face an enemy on “equal footing,” we are tempted to trust in our own resources– the toughness of our armor, the skill of our generals, the speed of our horses, and the superiority of our weapons. We hope and expect God to fight for us where we cannot hope to win alone, but we don’t ask for God’s help or protection in areas where we believe our own strength should be sufficient. Israel had a fine army– seasoned veterans of battle. If they HAD iron chariots of their own, victory might have been expected– with or without God’s divine intervention. But victory eluded them, because they didn’t finish the fight!

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We do the same thing today–we fail to march into battle because the enemy has “chariots of iron.” Maybe they have more social status, more political or economic power then we have. Perhaps we see that they have the means to make our lives painful “on the plains.” We see their arrogance, and their wealth and success, and we let ourselves be intimidated. We know that God has promised never to leave us or forsake us, but He has not given us chariots of iron to match those of the enemy. We don’t pray for the courage to face their chariots, or the wisdom to trust that the battle belongs to the Lord. Instead, we make excuses for not fighting the battle at all.

The rest of the book of Judges is filled with war, slavery, corruption, death, and evil. The very last verse sums it up: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” (Judges 21:25)

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Lord, help me to be courageous, and humble. May I always trust in You above all–especially above chariots of iron, and weapons of mankind.

The Lifter of My Head…

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I’ve been reading in the Psalms lately, and one that has really spoken to me this week has been Psalm 3

Psalm 3 English Standard Version (ESV)

Save Me, O My God

A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.

Lord, how many are my foes!
    Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
    “There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah[a]

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
    my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the Lord,
    and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah

I lay down and slept;
    I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
    who have set themselves against me all around.

Arise, O Lord!
    Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
    you break the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation belongs to the Lord;
    your blessing be on your people! Selah

Footnotes:
  1. Psalm 3:2 The meaning of the Hebrew word Selah, used frequently in the Psalms, is uncertain. It may be a musical or liturgical direction

Everyone has foes– no matter how hard we try to get along with everyone or do right by everyone.  And if those foes are people who should be or used to be close to you, it hurts deeper and more profoundly.  King David’s own son tried to take the throne and have him murdered.  David, who had slain Goliath, feigned madness to escape from his own father-in-law’s murderous plots, and united a kingdom, still fled in terror from his arrogant and foolish son.  Even when God rescued him from this foe, David wept and mourned for his rebellious son– to the point of discouraging the very men who had come to his aid!

But, as David did so well and so often, in the midst of his trouble, he turned first to the Lord who ruled his heart.  I love the names he gives God in this Psalm—You (Thou), O Lord are a Shield about me, My Glory, and the Lifter of My Head (v. 3– emphasis mine).

David’s God is powerful, majestic, awesome– but He is not distant or unfeeling.  Thou (used in the King James and other older English translations) is a term unfamiliar to many modern speakers of English, but it is the familiar form of the second person singular.  Many other languages still use this form.  It connotes an intimate relationship, such as a family member or beloved friend.  David knew his God better than he knew his own son.  He loved God whole-heartedly, devotedly, and without reservation.

Lord recognizes God’s position of authority and omnipotence.  As close as David was to God, he never lost the awe and wonder of God’s holiness, His majesty, His power, and His wisdom.  God raised David from shepherd boy to king.  David wasn’t perfect in his obedience, but he was quick repent of his failures, and quick to give God the credit for his successes.

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A Shield— God fights alongside David, protecting him, not patronizing him or removing him from the struggle.  God doesn’t remove us from our battles; but neither does He leave us alone and unprotected, waiting on the sidelines for us to be slaughtered.*  Yesterday, I felt clobbered by circumstances.  I felt crushed and battered emotionally, and I wanted a couch, far from the noise of battle.  But God knows that no one wins a battle from the couch; no one grows stronger, learns to persevere, builds character, or gains compassion from a couch.  God didn’t take me out of the battle, but He was (and continues to be) a shield, protecting me from the real arrows of the enemy– despair, rage, isolation, arrogance, self-destruction–I still feel the force of the blows, and sometimes, I get wounded, but I’m still in the fight, and He’s there with me.  *(One caveat– God is a shield to those who trust in Him.  He does not promise that we won’t be hurt, won’t fail sometimes, or won’t face death because of our faith.  However, He promises a comforter and counselor–the Holy Spirit.  There are many who lead so-called “charmed” lives– lives untouched by trials or spiritual battles…Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is the same thing as being “shielded”– shields are meant for battle– charms are meant to bring luck)

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My Glory— I get chills trying to wrap myself around that thought.  That God, the almighty, the all-glorious light of a million galaxies worth of stars, would notice me– let alone that He would number the hairs on my head, provide for my needs, heed my call for help, and fight alongside me–would create me in His image, so that I am an exact reflection of even the teeniest part of His Glory…that He invites me to know Him in all His Glory after all my failures, and broken promises, and shortcomings, and bad moods, and thoughtless words and actions, my bad hair days and dandruff days and runny nose days, and other inglorious ugliness that I cannot hide… But the best of all, I think is the last…

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The Lifter of My Head–What a picture of God’s compassion!  Think of picking up a newborn baby; how carefully we lift up and support that tiny head– how longingly we cup and shield that fragile face.  That’s our God!  Imagine on the battlefield, a soldier, wounded, parched, having his head lifted gently by a comrade who comes to tend to his wounds and share a drink of water.  Or the prodigal son, who cannot meet his father’s eyes, but finds his chin gently tilted to meet undeserved but merciful smile of his loving Dad.  God lifts our head so that we can see beyond the battle; beyond the pain; beyond the grief, and gaze at the Glory only He can share.

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If you don’t know this God–He is only a prayer away.  If you feel distant from God– call out and ask Him to lift up your head.  If you are struggling (as I have been lately), let this be a reminder to seek God by all His glorious names— He will reveal Himself to you for who He is as you call out to Him.

Praying to Win

Have you ever watched a sporting event–a real nail-biter–and prayed for your team to win?  Do you wonder if God is concerned about Little League or High School Basketball, or which team wins the Superbowl?  And what about the parents and coaches on both teams praying to him–one side has to “lose”–how does God answer such prayers?  DOES he answer such prayers?

While the Bible doesn’t give us a specific answer, I think there are some general principles that apply.  When teams prepare for a big game, they may talk about their desire to win, they may study their opponents, assess their own strengths and weaknesses, and give themselves pep-talks about winning, but they don’t practice winning– they practice playing their best, improving those areas where they are weakest, and working to bring their best on game day.  They don’t pray to win by default or by bad sportsmanship.

The apostle Paul uses athletic analogies for the Christian life– he talks about running the good race, fighting the good fight, and working to be worthy of the prize.  But he doesn’t direct Christians to pray that God gives us a victory.  Instead, he points out that the greatest victory– that over sin and death– has already been won!  We don’t fight the battles wondering if our victory or loss will turn the tide of the war.  We fight in the hope of strengthening our fellow warriors and bringing our victorious Savior more glory and honor.

This holds true in other areas as well.  In politics, we fight to win, but not in desperation or despair, knowing that if we lose this battle, God is not defeated or even surprised by the outcome.  Even in situations of corruption, despotism, and chaos, God can raise up leaders, topple evil powers, and bring renewal and revival.  In war, we fight to win, we fight to defend what we know to be right; but even if we lose the battles, we don’t lose faith.

God doesn’t always give us “wins.”  He doesn’t guarantee that we will never face setbacks or disappointments.  In fact, sometimes we need to “lose.”  We need to lose our selfish ambition, our pride, our drive to compare ourselves with others, our envy and greed, and our failure to submit to God’s best plan.

We pray for victory, but more than victory at any cost, we pray for God’s will to be victorious– for his strength to be shown even in and through our own weakness.  We pray for victory on God’s terms– which may mean a painful loss today, and grieving for the night, but joy that comes in the morning.  Great teams, great nations, great leaders– are not forged in continuous expectation of easy victory.  Sometimes we learn more and become greater by learning from our failures.

Let’s not just pray to win– let’s pray to be more than conquerors (Romans 8:37)!

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