“The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.” Ps 33:16-17
A few years ago I had the opportunity to walk through the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, OH. Moving from one hangar to the next I saw the evolution of aircraft from the Wright brother’s first plane to the modern surveillance drones of today.
It isn’t hard to be in a place like that and not have an overwhelming sense of patriotism as I see the military defense weapons and aircraft that our nation has used in the defense of our country and many other countries all around the world. Seeing these beautiful machines and their sheer size made me feel a little sorry for anyone that stood against them in a battle.
It makes me think about how Pharaoh felt about his horses and chariots, and the king of Babylon about his weapons of war. The same can be said about the Medo-Persians, Greeks, and Romans at different parts of world history. Whether the weapons are spears, swords, arrows, or chariots, tanks, and airplanes, our hearts can become fooled into thinking that it is the weapon and strategies that win the war. Sometimes we think we can simply outnumber the enemy with more soldiers, more money, more missiles, and more technologies. This is heady stuff and it can divert the attention of a nation away from their inherent weakness and need for God.
In Psalm 33, the unnamed psalmist recognized this prideful blindspot and seeks to refocus the attention of the worshippers of Yahweh. The king, he writes, is not saved by his army-no matter how great. A read through the Chronicles and any history book will give credence to this reality. Kings are overthrown, betrayed, killed in battle, poisoned, and even killed by their own sons in a grab of power. King David himself survived an attempted coup by his own son. Some rulers are better than others, but no ruler can exist without God’s help. The Lord puts the man on the throne or behind the desk, but it is God alone who keeps him there, and it is God who removes him.
The psalmist also recognized that the same is true about those warriors that seem unbeatable in battle. We laud those warriors that fight valiantly and bring to our nation victory over the enemy. Stories are told of campaigns where all hope was lost and then the hero emerged and snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat. But even the greatest hero among our warriors should not be hoped upon more than our God. Do not forget men like the mighty Goliath who boasted in his mighty size and ability to defeat Israel, even defying the Lord with mockery. That warrior’s great strength could not deliver him when a boy with a sling brought him to his death on the battlefield.
The warhorse was a great advantage to any ancient kingdom that sought to be a military powerhouse. The war horse was large, brave, and strong. He could charge into a mob of warriors with courage and bowl over those in his path, allowing his rider to swing his longsword or thrust his spear into the melee while remaining out of reach by the foot soldier. Any army that had a cavalry was an almost unstoppable force. Almost.
Knowing the confidence that men put in warhorses, he commanded that the kings of Israel were not to amass large numbers of them knowing that it would easily allow the king to seek confidence in his cavalry and not place his trust in the Lord. In modern weaponry, confidence is placed in ships, drones, fighter jets, missiles, and many other weapons that can unleash “shock and awe” in our enemies.
The writer of Psalm 33:16-17 should be heard. Anything we place our confidence in outside of God can and will fail. It is inevitable. As a matter of fact, it is worse than failure. These things that we place above our trust in God are an affront to Him, and they will not only fail but they will also be brought low as they have become a challenge to God for supremacy in our hearts. He will not allow anything else in His place.
“Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.” (Ezra 8:21–23, ESV)
Most of the time we find that our experiences of shame are due to our sin. Like Adam and Eve who recognized their nakedness after the Fall, shame is now an all too familiar part of the human experience. But in Ezra 8:21-23 we see a good outcome of shame–forced dependence upon God in a time of need.
Ezra was preparing to go back to Jerusalem to restore the temple after it had been destroyed by the Babylonians. Not only would the long trip be dangerous, but the danger would be amplified because their party would be large and they were to be laden with large amounts of gold and precious items of great value. Ezra would have preferred an armed escort by soldiers (the equivalent of our modern armored trucks) to make this journey, but he was ashamed because he had openly shared with the king the goodness and power of the Lord God. Since this was true, he shouldn’t need escorts, should he? How could he ask for protection by men when he has so openly confessed the power and might of God to protect His children?
What a predicament! The lesson here isn’t that God’s people should keep our testimony of the goodness and power of God under wraps–we actually need to become more vocal about it! Instead, we should do as Ezra did; he chose godly men to accompany him in fasting and prayer to implore the Lord to protect them as they knew He could do. The shame Ezra felt wasn’t in boasting, it was in his desire to live as if what he said about God wasn’t true and yet being forced to live by that truth or be ashamed at taking back what he said about his God.
Let us be abundant in our praise and glorying in the works of the Lord. And perhaps as a side effect we will find ourselves “forced” into living as if our great God is as great as we claim. Now wouldn’t that be something!
IFCA, I Fight Christians Anywhere. At times in the history of fundamentalism fighting fundamentalist meant fighting with other Christians over tertiary issues and the traditions of men. I think we can all agree that many times this was unbiblical and regretful. Afterall, 1 Timothy 3:3 says that an elder or pastor is not to be “quarrelsome” (ESV), a “striker” (KJV) or “pugnacious” (NASB). This word refers to a violent bully who pushes people around with either his fists or his words. Fundamentalism has had its share of those who could be described as pugnacious. Fighting about length of hair and skirts, Bible versions and musical styles has divided the church and diverted attention away from the real enemy.
But, in some ways, the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. In trying to get away from the caricature of the fighting fundamentalist, all too many Christians have forgotten that a few chapters later, Paul also wrote “Fight the good fight of the faith…” (1Tim. 6:12). Jude appealed to his audience to “contend for the faith” that was being threatened by false teachers who had crept into the church. Too many in the Church have forgotten—either that we are in a spiritual war, or who our true enemy is. In Ephesians 6:10-12, Paul reminded the Church about both of these critical truths.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:10–12, ESV)
Be Aware of Your Enemy—v. 12
Our enemy hates us. Look at the word “struggle” in verse 12. This word speaks of wrestling, of hand to hand combat. This is not a battle, but a war. A war made up of many, many bloody battles. We must know what we are facing. Satan wants to destroy us. Consider how he pushed the limits of Job, destroying everything in his life. But he didn’t stop there. Satan wanted to destroy Job’s faith in God himself. He is ruthlessly evil. The angel of the Lord left Jacob with a limp when he wrestled with him (Gen. 32:25-32). The Lord’s purpose in trials is to teach us. But the devil does not want to leave you with a limp, he wants to destroy you: (Jn 10:10), “The thief comes only to steal, and kill and destroy….” One saint of old said, “Consider that the devil does not sleep, but seeks our ruin in a thousand ways.”
Our Enemy is Spiritual
He cannot be seen, heard or experienced with our five senses. He disguises himself as one of God’s angels (2Cor. 11:14, “No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14, NASB95). Being a spirit being, he has been alive since the creation and has had the opportunity to watch and learn human behavior. He is the greatest philosopher, sociologist and theologian. He knows what makes humans tick and even worse, how to man-fish. He too is a fisher of souls.
Our Enemy is Organized
Because Satan is neither omnipresent nor omniscient, he must use his demonic horde to do his bidding. But this is not a mob of crazed demonic creatures. Wickedness leads men to rebel, but as at Babel, it also leads them to organize. “Rulers, powers, world forces, spiritual forces” (v. 12) —all of these designations portray an organized hierarchy of demonic angels. We may not know exactly how they are ordered, but we know that the enemy is organized for maximum effect.
Be Prepared for Battle—v. 11
“Put on the full armor” not just selected pieces. Later in this chapter Paul describes each piece of armor, but for now, we need to know that we cannot pick and choose. To do so would be disastrous because would leave us exposed to attack. Think about a police officer heading into a riot. As he surveys his equipment, which would he choose? A bullet-proof vest or a riot helmet? What will happen if he chooses one over the other? What about if he chose a shield and not boots? We too need to be armored, not choosing some, but all of the armor that God provides.
“Stand firm” is a reference to not being moved in our doctrinal stance. Ephesians 4:11-14 says:
“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;” (Eph 4:11–14, NASB95)
A lack of biblical discipleship leads to many things, including the immaturity of believers who will be like children who are rocked upon the shore by the waves of doubt and deception. Those who have drifted in their faith have brought disaster to their lives, and to the lives of many others. Paul warned Timothy of this happening in Ephesus: “keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme” (1Tim. 1:19–20, NASB95).
Be Alert—1Pet 5:8; 2Cor 2:11
First Peter 5:8 speaks about the need to be “sober minded.” This is not something that our age is known for, and this lack of sobriety is all too often a mark of much of the church. We are easily distracted, silly, and fascinated with the trivial. In 2 Corinthians 2:11, Paul likewise warned, “so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.” (2 Cor. 2:11, NASB95) Those who are outwitted and ignorant are also perfect descriptions of many Christians and churches. In the Bible we have a manual for warfare. War against our great enemies, the World, the flesh and the Devil. Know these enemies and their schemes!
Be Strong in the Lord—v. 10
Human Strength Fails
Second Corinthians 12:7-10 is a glorious text. It reads:
“Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:7–10, NASB95)
How we need to be reminded of this! When we fail to pray, we have forgotten this. When we become puffed up in our spirituality, we have forgotten our weakness. When our experiences and victories are worn like a medal on our chest, we have forgotten where our vvictory comes from.
Human Philosophies Fail
We can easily be taken off track by forgetting which war we are supposed to be fighting. We can begin fighting with each other, fighting against the Church, fighting against unbelievers that need Jesus, and fighting with political weapons of war. Our strategies and dependence upon human strength show where we have chosen to use another way to fight than the way that Jesus calls us to fight.
Human Courage Fails
Joshua 1:6-9describes the time after forty years of wandering in the wilderness for the generation that failed to trust God and enter the Promised Land to conquer it. As Joshua lead the next generation to enter the land, the Lord spoke these words of encouragement:
“Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. “Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”” (Josh. 1:6–9, NASB95)
When men go to battle, it is not glorified as it is in the movies and the recruitment posters. War is ugly. It is fierce and cold. But it is sometimes necessary in this fallen world. When you go into spiritual battle, it will be incredibly tempting to retreat back into your comfort zone, into your cozy world where you could forget about the reality of the devil and his demonic attacks. He would love that. He would love for you to put down your weapons and stop fighting, mocking you as a fighting fundamentalist. Or even better, to turn your weapons on others who are not the enemy because confusion is better than apathy to him. But that is not an option. We must gird up our loins for battle and march forward with the Lord into war. He will go before us. Never forget that. He fights for us. This will give you courage.
Fundamentalism is a dirty word to those in the world, but also one which is despised by many within the Church. Fundamentalism is rejected because some who have used this descriptor have swapped out biblical fidelity for cultural baggage and the traditions of men. Others have rejected it because they have given sway to the fear of man. Some have decided that it is too late to salvage the label for any good.
Whatever your opinion may be regarding the term fundamentalist, we should note this: those who are unswerving in their commitment to Christ and His Word must not fear men, but instead must be willing to pick up the Sword of the Word of God and engage the enemy of our souls and his wicked system. Some may call you a fighting fundamentalist, but this is preferable to one day hearing the Lord call you unfaithful.
This post is adapted from the article of the same title in The Voice, Jan-Feb 2020. Used with permission.
“When the rule of Rehoboam was established and he was strong, he abandoned the law of the Lord, and all Israel with him.” 2 Chronicles 12:1
What a warning biblical leaders have in the example of King Rehoboam! The above verse shows the downfall of many, and O how the mighty have fallen!
When a ruler or leader becomes established and strong, it is then that so many no longer depend upon the Lord, but instead abandon Him for their own strength. King Uriah did this, and so did Hezekiah. David as well as Saul before him.
What a profound warning for all rulers and leaders! We all need to take heed, lest we fall when we think that we are strong and self-sufficient. How can we know that this is happening?
Our prayer life dwindles and even disappears.
We do not seek the Lord’s counsel when making decisions.
We put greater focus and dependence upon our strengths and push to the background our weaknesses.
We see victories as “ours,” even placing our achievements before others as memorials to ourselves.
We become driven and ruthless when dealing with others and grace disappears from our interactions with them.
We find ourselves less thankful to the Lord for using us as servants, and we become hungry for the applause of men, and even downcast when it doesn’t come.
These are a few of the symptoms of a servant who has become a king in their own mind. May we never forget that there is only one King whom we serve and Jesus is His name. The rest of us are but stewards and under shepherds by His grace.