Posts tagged ‘Battle’

A Prize Worth Winning

Credit: Timur Weber / Pexels.com

To say that we live in a divided society is an understatement. Everything from politics to economics to sociology to now, as researchers have discovered, geography divides us. Bill Bishop, in his book The Big Sort, explains that over the course of three decades:

People had been reshaping the way they lived. Americans were forming tribes, not only in their neighborhoods but also in churches and volunteer groups. That’s not the way people would describe what they were doing, but in every corner of society, people were creating new, more homogenous relations. Churches were filled with people who looked alike and, more important, thought alike. So were clubs, civic organizations, and volunteer groups. Social psychologists had studied like-minded groups and could predict how people living and worshiping in homogenous groups would react: as people heard their beliefs reflected and amplified, they would become more extreme in their thinking. What had happened over three decades…[was a] kind of self-perpetuating, self-reinforcing, social division. The like-minded neighborhood supported the like-minded church, and both confirmed the image and beliefs of the tribe that lived and worshiped there. Americans were busy creating social resonators, and the hum that filled the air was the reverberated and amplified sound of their own voices and beliefs.

This self-sorting into like-minded communities has often, sadly, turned these like-minded communities into closed-minded communities. This, in turn, increases polarization and fuels confrontations between different beliefs, behaviors, and worldviews – and not just in society generally, but even in families personally. More and more, more and more people are no longer interested in learning from those with whom they disagree, but instead in defeating those with whom they disagree.

Around 750 B.C., the nation of Israel was riding high. They had recently captured two Syrian cities, Lo-Debar and Karnaim, and were proudly confident in their military might. What they did not realize, however, is that the Assyrian Empire was quietly ascending and would soon sweep in to decimate and defeat their northern half of their nation. The conquerors would soon be conquered.

It is into this context that God sends a prophet named Amos who warns Israel of her impending calamity:

You who rejoice in the conquest of Lo Debar and say, “Did we not take Karnaim by our own strength?” For the Lord God Almighty declares, “I will stir up a nation against you, Israel, that will oppress you all the way from Lebo Hamath to the valley of the Arabah.” (Amos 6:13-14)

Israel’s victory over these two small towns will mean nothing when they are defeated by a powerful empire. Indeed, the name Lo Debar in Hebrew means “nothing.” Israel may have won a battle, but ultimately, she has “nothing” to show for her victory.

In a polarized moment like ours, Amos’s warning to Israel is also a warning for us. As we fight our battles, it may be worth it to ask: even if we win whatever battle we’re fighting, what are we actually winning? All too often, the answer may be Lo Debar – nothing. We may win a battle, but in our proud moment of victory only hurt others and fray feelings. The cost of our victory in battle far outstrips the value of the prize.

This week, when you feel tempted to do battle – whether culturally or personally, such as with your spouse or one of your children – ask yourself: if I win, am I actually gaining anything, or am I just hurting someone? If the answer is the latter, trade your desire for combat for a patient conversation. Who knows? If you seek to help and understand instead of to win and coerce, you might just both win by not losing a relationship. And that is a prize worth winning.

June 20, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Joshua Paused the Battle of Jericho

When I was a kid, I would sing a song in Sunday School called “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho.” It was all about Joshua’s conquest of the infamous city, whose walls came “tumblin’ down.” The song was fun to sing, but it also recounted a chapter from Israel’s history that has long been troubling to a lot of people. Israel’s conquest of Canaan, beginning with Jericho, involved a lot of violence and slaughter, which raises an important and understandable question: how could a good God lead His people in such violent warfare?

When Joshua fights this inaugural battle against the people of Canaan, the battle plan God gives him is a strange one:

See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in. (Joshua 6:2-5)

God says to Joshua He will bring the walls of the city down, but only after six days of open marching.

In ancient battle plans, the element of surprise was key. Just a few chapters later, Adoni-Zedek, who is the king of Jerusalem at this time, moves to attack the Gibeonites because he does not like that they have made a peace treaty with the Israelites. The Gibeonites ask for Joshua’s help, which he delivers when he takes Adoni-Zedek in battle “by surprise” (Joshua 10:9). Surprise was standard.

But there’s no surprise at Jericho. The chapter opens by noting that “the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites” (Joshua 6:1). The people of Jericho knew a defeat was imminent. So why would Joshua wait? Why not just make those Jericho walls tumble on the first day instead of waiting until the seventh?

Before they reach the Promised Land, Moses describes God’s character to the Israelites like this:

The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. (Exodus 34:6)

God’s desire and nature is not to destroy wicked people in anger, but to patiently wait for them to turn to Him. Indeed, even when a prostitute from Jericho named Rahab trusts in God and helps the Israelites, He gladly spares her (cf. Joshua 2). The six days of marching, then, are six days of waiting – six days of God waiting for the people of Jericho to repent. Before Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, he paused the battle of Jericho.

When God first promises the land of Canaan to Abraham, He says to Abraham that he will have to wait to enter it because its sin “has not yet reached its full measure.” 675 years pass before Joshua fights the first battle against the people there. It turns out that God is not only patient with sinners, He is very patient.

Thus, the violent warfare of Joshua’s day is not the story of a vengeful God gleefully destroying sinners, but the story of sorrowful God who has waited and waited for sinners to repent, but to no avail.

God is still patient with sinners today. His invitation to us remains the same: turn to Him and trust in Him. Sin does not need to destroy you, for His Son can save you.

August 2, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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