HORSE, WAR AND PROVIDENCE

During the past weeks I have been watching the news and have become more and more concerned about the situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula. Strong words come from various nations and war ships are being positioned while bombs are being prepared.  Difficult words to hear for the populace of any nation, particularly in this day when destruction could be catastrophic.

In reading Proverbs, I found comfort, even in this turbulent time, in the following verse:

The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord.

Proverbs 21:31

White horse statue, St Francois Xavier, Manitoba
White Horse statue in the Royal Municipality of St. Francois Xavier, Manitoba, Canada

 

In David’s day and for centuries thereafter, the horse was the consummate fighting machine.  While the horse did not guarantee a win, the one on horseback had the clear advantage.  So, it is understandable that if a battle was forthcoming, the horse would be made ready.

In his commentary on this verse, Matthew Poole [1624-1679] says that the “horse” encompasses any warlike preparation that is undertaken.  In other words, we must do that which is possible for us to do in preparation for the battle.  But, we must also recognize that the outcome of the battle is not up to us.  The key point of the verse is the second section which states that victory in the battle rests with the Lord. 

In his commentary on this verse, Matthew Henry [1662-1714] notes that all the plans of mankind are under the eye of God. 

He that sits in heaven laughs at men’s projects against him and his anointed, and will carry his point in spite of them, Psalm 2:1-6. … Be the cause ever so good, and the patrons of it ever so strong, and wise, and faithful, and the means of carrying it on, and gaining the point, ever so probable, still they must acknowledge God and take him along with them. Means indeed are to be used; the horse must be prepared against the day of battle, and the foot too; they must be armed and disciplined. In Solomon’s time even Israel’s kings used horses in war, though they were forbidden to multiply them. [See Deuteronomy 17:16]  But, after all, safety and salvation are of the Lord; he can save without armies, but armies cannot save without him; and therefore he must be sought to and trusted in for success, and when success is obtained he must have all the glory.

David reinforces this concept when he says: 

The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.

Psalm 33:17

Mr. Poole’s commentary, consistent with Matthew Henry’s thought, expressed as follows:

Safety is of the Lord; the success of the battle depends not upon any human strength or art, but merely upon God’s providence, who gives the victory when and to whom he pleaseth, and ofttimes to those that have least reason to expect it.

Let these words be of comfort to you.  Remember that our God is in control, even when it appears that things are falling apart.  Remember too these words, also found in Proverbs 21:

The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.

Proverbs 21:1

Faint not. Fear not.  Faith in God and in our Lord Jesus Christ will preserve you today, in times of difficulty, in times of fear, even at the time of death. If you are His child, if you have claimed Jesus as your Savior, you have no need to fear. 

As David said in the Old Testament:

“The LORD is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do to me?”

Psalm 118:6

And as Paul said in the New Testament:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:35, 38-39

Father, thank You for Your Word that is true.  Thank You for the calming assurance that You are with me even when fear aims its arrows at my heart.  Thank You that Jesus Christ is my Savior and that the Holy Spirit will comfort me through all things, and that nothing can pull me out of Your hands.

 

 

 

 

I HEARD THE BELLS ON CHRISTMAS DAY

 

By now, at this time in the Christmas season, I suspect that most of us have seen some form of the Nativity pageant in our church, or at a school performance, or on television. 

a-wise-man-from-childrens-pagent
A wise man at our children’s Christmas nativity scene.

We have been told about the events that first Christmas Day over 2,000 years ago when the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the lowly shepherds who were tending their sheep in the field.  The angels’ announcement is found in Luke 2:13-14 where we read:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

The King James Version of verse 14 says “and on earth peace, goodwill toward men”.  

The Jews wanted a prince to restore a peaceful kingdom to Israel, so this angelic hymn was, quite literally, music to their ears!  Even today, many people believe that true religion must bring peace. And, this proposition would be true if the message of Jesus Christ was universally received.  It cannot be argued that any system of laws could be more suited to living peacefully in human society than the Gospel of Christ. 

And he [the man] answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  And he [Jesus] said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

Luke 10:27-28 [See also Matthew 22:37-41] 

But, even a superficial glance at the daily newspaper shows, such love does not reign in our society or our world, and sometimes not even in our churches.  Indeed, the fact of the matter is that love is all too often missing from our interactions with others. Road rage, murders, massacres, vehicles plowing down pedestrians, infants being shot while in a car seat in the family vehicle, people shot while praying in their church, wars and conflicts … and the list goes on.  Hatred is everywhere and peace is hard to find.

Were the angels wrong when they said that this Babe would bring peace to our world?  Absolutely not.

But, Jesus said that He did not come to bring “peace on earth”:

 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Matthew 10:34 and again,

Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.

Luke 12:51

In these verses, Jesus is saying that He did not bring peace to the earth!  This seems to be inconsistent with the angels’ message when He was born!  But, the angels were not wrong or misinformed and Jesus was not ignorant of His mission.  Quite the contrary.  He did bring peace, just not the kind of peace that the people expected.  The fact is that civil peace was not the purpose of the Babe’s birth.

In Matthew 10 and Luke 12, Jesus is talking about the dedication that following Him requires.  It is not a shallow “liking” nor is it simply a willingness to do good things. He is also forewarning His followers that there would be persecution and that they needed to remain strong in their faith and dedication to Him.  Indeed, following Him requires whole-hearted devotion, no matter what the cost, even if it involves persecution, even if it separates us from our family, even if it separates us from this life.

Matthew Poole, in his Commentary on the Bible, says this about Matthew 10:34-37:

Accidentally, through the corruption of men’s hearts, the consequent [result] of Christ’s coming into the world, and of his gospel coming into and prevailing in any part of the world, is (as Luke phrases it) “rather division”, which is here called a sword. Through men’s fondness of their idolatry, superstition, and lusts, and madness on them, their impatience of being outdone in religion and righteousness of conversation, the event [result] of Christ’s coming was division, wars, variances, … men taking up arms to compel all others to their idolatries and superstitions. And that natural antipathy [hatred] which men have to holiness, setting them at variance with [in opposition to] those who, embracing the gospel, live a life as becometh the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ,… 

Jesus did bring peace.  It was His heavenly peace for those who accept Him as their Savior. 

Here are just a few of Jesus words giving His peace to His followers:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

John 14:27

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

What does this have to do with Christmas?  A great deal!  Civil peace is almost a fiction. Rather, the peace that our Lord brought was His peace, heavenly peace. It is the peace that allowed Jesus to willingly go to the cross, to experience excruciating pain and torture without retaliation, and even to forgive those who were mocking Him while they nailed Him to the cross.

For the believer, His peace is real … it is part of the fabric of our faith and it covers the believer even in times of great distress.  It may appear that Satan and his forces are winning the cosmic battle over the earth.  But this is only an illusion that Satan wants us to believe.  (Remember Job?  Satan had to get God’s permission to hurt him, all for God’s purposes of which Job was unaware.)

God, the Creator and Sustainer, the Almighty Immortal Sovereign Ruler is in control. Make no mistake — God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is in control.  He was in control when Satan had to get permission to act and He has not changed.  He sent Christ into this world to exhibit peace and to bring that peace to His people. 

The Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” expresses the despair that the conflict in our world brings but God is neither dead nor sleeping.  He did bring His peace into the world on Christmas Day, and He is still in control even 2,000 years later.  Listen to the carol as sung by the group Casting Crowns on their album Peace on Earth.

Christian, take heart.  Rely on Jesus Christ and His peace this Christmas and all year long.  He will give you grace to endure that which comes your way.  His grace was sufficient for the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12:9) and it is sufficient for us today.

Father, I bow at this time of the year and thank You for the Gift brought to us through Your grace and mercy in the birth of Jesus Christ.  When the sorrows of the world beset me, grant me the grace to rely on You in the sure confidence that even in times of difficulty, You are in control and I am in Your hand!

THE BENEFITS OF COMMUNITY

Helping others – giving each other an assisting hand in time of need or difficulty.

used-helping-papa-and-grandson-feeding-squirrels-c
Papa helping youth reach squirrel feeder.

We sometimes think of this concept as the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12: “”So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”).

Helping child to overcome fear of water
Father helping child overcome fear of the water.

In studying the Scriptural book of Ecclesiastes, you find a myriad of comments on the difficulty of life, the dreariness of toil, the futility of materialism, the fleeting nature of life.

Again, I saw vanity under the sun:  one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business.

Ecclesiastes 4:7-8

The writer here describes the solitary person who was striving for goods and his toil was difficult.  The description of the futility of a man gaining much worldly possessions through hard work but not having any pleasure while not having anyone to leave those goods to after death is described as vanity (futility) and an “unhappy business”.

But the next series of verses extols the benefits of community.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!  Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?  And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him–a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Two workers are better than one – they can help each other in difficult times.  Some think of this “falling” as not only physically falling but spiritually falling into sin.  Having a friend with you can help prevent physical as well as spiritual injury.

In his Commentary on the Whole Bible, Matthew Poole has this to say about the proverb at the conclusion of Ecclesiastes 4:12:

A threefold cord is not quickly broken; if a man have not only one, but two or more friends, he is so much the safer and the happier.

The Church is an illustration of this proverb.  When one believer is alone, his witness is difficult, his spiritual life suffers by lack of attention, and he can neglect his study, prayer and devotion to the Lord.

church-with-steeple
Church on a hill with steeple.

In contrast, the one who is active in his church, who studies his Bible and prays by himself but also with others in a small group or Sunday School, who attends worship to lift his voice in song in praise to our Father and who hears a Bible-based sermon expounding on the truth of the gospel, that individual is strengthened in his Christian life and he will grow through the Holy Spirit into the likeness of the Lord.

In other words, a solitary believer is subject to the attack of Satan and to the lure of sin and will succumb to the attack much more readily than one who has the community of believers around him.  Our brothers and sisters in the Lord are those who will hold us to account and who will warn us if they see us swerving into sin’s path, and they will be there to pray for us if we need them to do so.

There is an old story about the man who stopped going to church after his wife died, he no longer desiring to worship with others and believing that he could connect with God on his own.

After a long absence, the pastor visited the church.  Upon entering the home, he saw it was heated by a blazing fire.  Neither of the men spoke a word.  They both sat in front of the fire and rocked a few minutes.

Then the pastor took the tongs and picked up a blazing coal from the fire, placing it on the hearth, away from the fire.  Both men silently looked at the coal and it began to stop burning, slowing losing its energy and growing cold.

When the transformation ended, the pastor took the tongs and placed the cold coal back into the warmth of the fire, and almost immediately the coal began to blaze on its own, as it was surrounded by other burning coals.

Still without speaking, the pastor stood up and turned toward the door, when he heard the man speak from behind him … “Pastor, I’ll be in the worship service on Sunday.”

Friends – two are better than one.  Three are better than two.  Many are better than three.  Brothers and sisters in our Lord are the best!

Father, thank You for providing us with your Son Who died for our sins and Who lives now as He intercedes on our behalf before your throne.  Lord Jesus, thank You for giving us your Church, the Body of Christ, and our Christian brothers and sisters who encourage, strengthen, hold accountable and bring joy to us as we walk along the way.