2 Sam 23:8-12
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By Stephen Green. (First published in Christian Voice: November 2004)
Jer. 51:30 The mighty men of Babylon have forborn to fight, they have remained in their holds: their might hath failed; they became as women: they have burned her dwellingplaces; her bars are broken.
The beauty of Biblical prophecy is that a word spoken in one age may apply in another, or in several others. The lessons of a prophecy may re-echo down the centuries. Here is Jeremiah with a prophetic condemnation of Babylon in the face of what the Lord has revealed to him to be an imminent invasion by the Medes and Persians. Sadly, here also is a description of the Church in Britain today, in the face of humanism and secularism. The mighty men forbore to fight. They became as women. No offence to women, but we know what he means.
There is a media stereotype of Christianity as an easy target, a faith adhered to by cowards who have lost sight of the holiness of God, are too timid to talk about righteousness, a feeble, lily-livered collection of wimps too nice or too scared to stand up for King Jesus, denounce sin as sin and fight where the battle is fiercest. It is not so much a physical cowardice, although to an extent it is, but a spiritual and intellectual cowardice.
It is worth reminding ourselves of what Martin Luther said: "If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest expression every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace, if he flinches at that point."
We can think of many places on the battlefield where the battle is raging, but perhaps one of the fiercest points is the front on which the homosexual lobby is advancing today. Much of the church has foreborn to fight there. When you are constantly being attacked with 'judgmental', 'bigoted,' 'unloving', divisive' and so on, it is tempting to back off, especially if your understanding of the ways of God is limited or partial. But it is still cowardice to do so. "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing," as the statesman Edmund Burke put it.
The Lincolnshire singer and evangelist Godfrey Birtill used to work developing films. In the old days, long before you could simply download a picture onto a computer, photographers and their assistants would go into a dark-room, unload a film, put it into a spiral tank, pour in the developer, screw the top down and agitate it. If you failed to agitate the developer, allowing it to settle, some parts of the film became over-developed, while other parts remained under-developed.
The Church is a bit like that today in some of its theology. Mercy is over-developed, Godfrey suggests, and judgment is under-developed. Perhaps we can add others. I could put it that a sense of God's love is over-developed, while our awe in the face of His holiness is under-developed. Or that grace is over-developed, and law is under-developed. It only needs one of us to start talking about purity or righteousness, and he is immediately told, by people who know him so well they wouldn't even recognise him in the street, that he is not loving, or is lacking in grace.
If that person is at all timid, he might back off, unprepared to contend for the point. In fact, why is it that those who talk of love, grace, mercy, and so on, are the more aggressive in debate? Even some of us who have a fully-developed tank of theological film are too often like those mighty men of Babylon, forbearing to fight. But in any event, the Church today needs more agitators.
A PASTORAL MINDSET
If people are to fight, they need leaders. Is it the case that the people would fight but too many of the pastors are unwilling to lead? Is there a problem with the attitude of mind of certain of the pastors? Are some pastors like a cork, keeping what would be an effervescent outpouring of action bottled up? Using the distinctions given in Ephesians 4:11, Jim Hodges, founder of the Federation of Ministers and Churches in America, explores the difference between the frame of mind of a natural pastor on the one hand, and the characteristic of an apostle on the other:
"The pastoral mind-set focuses primarily on individual believers, the 'sheep,' as it should," says Jim Hodges. "The apostolic mind-set focuses on the corporate vision and outreach of the church."
He goes on: "The pastoral mind-set wants to take the congregation, the "flock," to its next level of service to God. The apostolic mind‑set goes beyond the congregation and targets the city and regional transformation.
"The pastoral mind-set attempts to maintain harmony, balance, and peace and stability. The apostolic mind-set pushes out to the frontiers of the mission of God with all the risks involved in aggressive warfare.
"The pastoral mind-set regards the church as the family of God. Socialization becomes important. The apostolic mind-set regards the church as the army of God. Effective strategy becomes important. Pastors want their people in the bedroom (intimacy with God), while apostles want them on the battlefield (warfare against the devil).
"Pastors are comfortable with and connect better with teachers. Apostles, on the other hand, are more comfortable with and connect better with prophets. The pastoral mind-set avoids controversy so that everything remains settled. The apostolic mind-set welcomes and confronts controversy with the goal of resolution."
ELEAZAR STOOD ALONE
If Jim Hodges is right, a surfeit of 'pastoral' minds in leadership may be just as much a problem as the under-development of the theological film. Or perhaps the two go together. For whatever reason, we Christians today are just like the men of Babylon. We too stay inside our holds, in our churches, where we feel safe. We forebear to fight. So what happened to the men of Babylon? Were they safe in their holds? Did their enemy, the invading Medes and Persians, show mercy on men who put down their weapons and hid themselves away? No, those men were sought out and destroyed. They did not die like men, defending what they believed in, but they died all the same, like cowards, sheltering in a corner. What an abrogation of duty was exhibited by the men of Babylon. And what a contrast with the mighty men of Israel:
2 Sam. 23:8 These be the names of the mighty men whom David had: The Tachmonite that sat in the seat, chief among the captains; the same was Adino the Eznite: he lift up his spear against eight hundred, whom he slew at one time
9 And after him was Eleazar the son of Dodo the Ahohite, one of the three mighty men with David, when they defied the Philistines that were there gathered together to battle, and the men of Israel were gone away:
10 He arose, and smote the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clave unto the sword: and the LORD wrought a great victory that day; and the people returned after him only to spoil
11 And after him was Shammah the son of Agee the Hararite. And the Philistines were gathered together into a troop, where was a piece of ground full of lentiles: and the people fled from the Philistines
12 But he stood in the midst of the ground, and defended it, and slew the Philistines: and the LORD wrought a great victory.
NO TIME FOR DEFEATISM
The man Eleazar in verses 9-10 is the complete antithesis of the faint-hearted men of Babylon. He is only the second of David's mighty men, but he did not flinch any more than did Adino. Significantly, all the other men of Israel had 'gone away', no doubt saying, “They're too strong for us," "We can't win," or "Run for your lives." Eleazar had no time for defeatism and no time for passivity. He fought himself to a standstill. His hand had been clasped around that sword for so long he felt it was part of him. Alone he stood and fought, keeping going when lesser men might have rested. Strength in such a situation comes from nowhere you can understand. In the case of Eleazar, God gave him the strength he needed to do the job, simply because he was prepared to stand up for righteousness at the Lord's time.
Interestingly, the men who had left Eleazar alone to fight came back afterwards 'only to spoil.' Eleazar did not mess things up for the rest of Israel by his stand, he improved them. Nor is there any suggestion that he was irritated by others coming back to enjoy the spoils of victory. He had done his job, and encouraged the rest by his example. We need more men with the courage of Adino, Eleazar and Shammah in the church today.
ACTION DOES NOT MAKE THE CHURCH A TARGET
It is common to hear that action of the sort Christian Voice engages in makes either us or the Church in a town a target for the enemy. Our experience is the opposite, and is borne out by the Biblical example of how Eleazar made things easier for the rest of his people. There is another example back in Genesis from what happened after the slaughter at Shechem. Ignoring for a moment the rights and wrongs of the deceit Levi and Simeon played on the men of Shechem, the result was that all the men were put to the sword as a result of it. Jacob was afraid that the incident would result in an uprising of the local tribes against the people of Israel:
And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, Ye have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites: and I being few in number, they shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house. Gen. 34:30
Not for the first time in his life, Jacob was wrong. The precise opposite happened:
And they journeyed: and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob. Gen. 35:5
The surrounding towns were petrified of the sons of Jacob, and too afraid to tangle with them. Not only that, but God reconfirmed Hs blessing. Jacob came to Bethel, built an altar there, and God appeared to him, repeating that he would be called Israel from there on. The blessing of God extended to making Israel a great nation and company of nations, with kings and land.
ATTACK IS THE BEST DEFENCE
Which example will you follow? That of Babylon, forebearing to fight, or that of Israel, even with Eleazar standing alone if he has to? On every battlefield, and in every local church, there needs to be an Eleazar, someone who is prepared to stand up for righteousness, whatever the apparent cost. I am convinced the rewards far exceed the spiritual outlay. A man like Eleazar is supported and taken forward by God. He knows God's blessing in a way in which those who forebear to fight will never know. The Lord will hedge him about and encourage him. He can pray Psalm 31, and receive the deliverance of Psalm 27 and the encouragement of Psalm 149.
The media stereotype needs challenging. Christianity is a faith for men. Through agitation of the theological developing tank God will equip us to resist humanistic arguments with the truth. Through encouragement of the 'apostolic' mind-set God will raise up the necessary leaders. God needs men of action, the outgoing, the courageous and the faith-filled, to push out the boundaries of debate, engage the enemy and drive back evil, even in a land where Satan is in occupation. I pray that God is raising those men up right now.