“These are the nations that God left there, using them to test the Israelites who had no experience in the Canaanite wars. He did it to train the descendants of Israel, the ones who had no battle experience, in the art of war.” (Judges 3:1-2 MSG)
This is remarkable. Israel has fought her way into the promised land, one king at a time, but Joshua has died and this next generation grew up playing Call of Duty on Xbox while their Dad’s were off fighting real wars. Now Israel is without a leader and shacking up with strange gods, and the Lord is angry. His anger is the anger of betrayal. He has loved and rescued his beloved Israel for many years, but now she looks longingly at her neighbor’s gods, and jealousy rises in the heart of the I AM. (Let that wonderful and terrible thought sink in.) Yet even as his heart breaks He is concerned for her future. She is unprepared to defeat and drive out her enemies, having no fighting experience at all. This adulterous nation is still HIS nation, and the great Lover is going to fight for her heart. But first she needs to survive. And so instead of driving them out himself, He leaves the enemy in the promised land. On purpose. To train Israel in the art of war.
Why does life have to be so hard? In my life, it seems like the attacks from Satan are planned for those times when I am tired, feeling discouraged, or struggling with circumstances. In other words, when I am feeling weak he ambushes me. That can’t be coincidence. Sometimes I see it coming and just surrender. Really. Too tired to fight, I wave the white flag of surrender. I say this to my shame. Other times I bravely take out my sword and face the hordes, thrusting and parrying, skillfully holding off the enemy for five minutes before my arm wearies and my mad skills turn into wild flailing before losing the battle altogether. Tired. Frustrated. Ashamed. But then I hear the encouraging voice of my Teacher, “Well done! Now let’s try that again, but hold your arm this way and widen your stance. Not so tense. Relax your grip. There. Good! Now FIGHT!” His words are never condemning or harsh. I am tired, but He tells me I have what it takes and so I go again. This is my training ground as I push forward ever closer to the Kingdom. Pilgrims Progress describes it in this story:
“Then the Interpreter took him, and led him up towards the door of the palace; and behold, at the door stood a great company of men, desiring to go in; but dared not. There also sat a man at a little distance from the door, at a table-side, with a book and his inkhorn before him, to take the name of him that should enter therein; he saw also, that in the doorway stood many men in armor to keep it, being resolved to do the men that would enter what hurt and mischief they could. Now was Christian somewhat amazed. At last, when every man started back for fear of the armed men, Christian saw a man of a very stout countenance come up to the man that sat there to write, saying, Set down my name, Sir: and when he had done so, he saw the man draw his sword, and put a helmet upon his head, and rush toward the door upon the armed men, who laid upon him with deadly force; but the man, not at all discouraged, fell to cutting and hacking most fiercely. So after he had received and given many wounds to those that attempted to keep him out, he cut his way through them all, and pressed forward into the palace, at which there was a pleasant voice heard from those that were within, even of those that walked upon the top of the palace, saying–‘Come in, come in; Eternal glory you shall win.'” John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress
The “man of stout countenance” was a man who had been well trained by the Master and afterwards served several tours of duty perfecting his skill in battle. He was not discouraged at the thought of battle. Fighting was as breathing to him. Wounds proof that he had truly fought and lived. Scars considered as badges of honor. He had embraced war long ago. If I was dropped behind physical enemy lines, I would want to be with a troop filled with these kind of men. Fierce. Battle tested. Experienced. They wouldn’t want me, because I don’t know anything about physical war and have zero tours of duty, so I would be a liability to true warriors. But I have been on several spiritual tours of battle. There are more tours to come, and I know it. I am learning to say with courage “Set down my name, Sir.” I have learned that if I am not willing to risk the wounds and scars, I will have nothing to offer those who follow behind. If I don’t accept the discipline of training from the Master, I cannot hope to stand before the gate and hack my way in. I must accept – no, embrace the reality that I was born into a world at war, and consider it an honor to share the scars of Jesus. Oh, how humbling it is to be considered worthy of such an honor! The tender, generous love of God offers me a place in the battle to hone my skills, never leaving my side, having offered His very life for me. It has always been this way, even when I was unwilling to see it.
“And when they had preached the Good News to that city and made many disciples, they returned,….strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.'” (Acts 14:22)
I mentioned the Master. My Teacher. He trains my hands for war, but that is not all. He is always with me, and He loves me with so great a love. I can call on him anytime the forces arrayed against me are too strong. I forget that sometimes. Often when I most need to remember. But the secret is that he loves coming through for me. He gives me strength to fight, but when I am weak He is strong:
The terrible noise of battle fades to a faraway din as my focus narrows on the dark form of my enemy directly in front of me. Our swords have crossed, and as steel clashes and sparks fly I sense this one is too strong for me. I am tired, and my mind is not clear. I desperately parry and step back as darkness swirls around me. I cannot see clearly. A stone rolls under my foot and I stumble to a knee. I cry out in my weakness, “Jesus, save me!” I am on one knee now, groping for my sword which has fallen to the ground. I raise the shield as my terrible adversary smiles an ugly smile, his black weapon descending, his taunts piercing my heart. “You are so weak! You will never be enough!” I hold my shield above me, feeling the weight of those words, when his grotesque expression falters a mere moment before he vanishes with a crack and mighty flash of brilliant white light and all I see is the face of my Deliverer. He heard my cry. He arrived in time. He smiles at me kindly and offers his hand. “You fought well. You are truly a warrior, my friend.” That’s the kind of Friend he is. So good and kind, and the most cunning warrior I know. I will forever love Him.
“The real meaning of eternal life is a life that can face anything it has to face without wavering. If we take this view, life becomes one great romance, a glorious opportunity for seeing marvelous things all the time. God is disciplining us to get us into this central place of power.” Oswald Chambers
The discipline of war. The divine romance. The marvelous adventure.