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.

Iron Sharpens Iron

Proverbs 27:17 New Living Translation (NLT)

17 As iron sharpens iron,
so a friend sharpens a friend.

I’m not really sure why this single verse, this single idea, has been rattling around in my mind lately, but I’ve taken a week off from doing the blog, trying to regroup and refocus, and yet this is the phrase that keeps coming back.  So here’s what I’ve been thinking:

Iron –God uses a lot of imagery, analogy, parable, and metaphor throughout the Bible.  What does this image suggest?  Iron is hard.  Iron is used for tools and (in Bible times) weapons.  Iron is strong.  Iron is forged in the fire.  Iron being sharpened can bring out sparks.  Iron crafted by a master blacksmith can be forged, shaped, smoothed, hardened, and, yes, sharpened.

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God calls us to be useful– light, salt, vessels, iron, hands–we have purpose; we have work to do during our time on earth.  Sometimes, that work calls for us to be steadfast, immovable– like iron.  But iron that is not being used can become brittle, or rusty, and lose its edge.

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“Iron sharpens iron“– We don’t always use iron to sharpen iron– sometimes we use honing stones or grinding wheels or even strops.   But we don’t use cheese to sharpen iron– it won’t work.  We don’t sharpen it with paper or “positive energy” or a block of wood.  How are we staying “sharp”?  Do I make an effort to sharpen my skills, my knowledge, my service, my body, mind, and spirit?  Am I using the right method and materials to stay sharp?

Who or what do I turn to when I want sharpening?  Do I have friends who keep me accountable (and vice versa)?  Do I even WANT to stay sharpened and ready for service?  Or do I serve without guarding my edge until it becomes dull and useless?

Iron sharpens iron– but not always.  Sometimes iron blunts iron.  Sometimes it cuts away at it.  Sharpening is not accomplished by just banging pieces of iron together randomly.  There are circumstances, habits, people, or activities that try to chip away at my surface, that try to crush or bend or destroy.  There are others that are not made of iron; they cannot help me stay strong and sharp.  I need to be deliberate and careful about what and who I include in the sharpening process.  I also need to be as deliberate and as careful about who I “sharpen”.  We are here to live, and work, and build relationships together.  But I need to learn when and how to “sharpen” others in my life.  Otherwise, I can cause great damage to others and to my own soul.

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What can I do to keep sharpened and help others stay sharp?

  • Pray.  I don’t have answers, I don’t have the power to stay sharp on my own.  But God is the one who can give us wisdom, power, and send us all we need (2 Peter 1:3)  Also, seek out a prayer partner or prayer group.
  • Get involved in Bible Study– seek out a Bible Study group or an on-line resource where you can ask questions, have meaningful discussions, and share insights.

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  • Seek out “iron” friends– friends who will hold you accountable, who will offer support, but also share their own struggles.  We all have friends who fill one or the other of these roles, but seek out friends who are not merely takers or givers, but true brothers and sisters in the faith.

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  • Don’t run away from challenges, “tough” questions, and earnest discussions–that doesn’t mean that we need to get pulled into senseless arguments, either; but we are disciples— that’s the same root word as discipline!  We need to come out of our comfortable corners and exercise our faith.

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As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend— such a short verse, but it’s packed with wisdom and promise.

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