“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” (Psalm 91:4)
The title of this devotion is a Latin phrase which my family recently came across in their studies and shared with me. Literally translated, it means, “So much the better, we will fight in the shade.” Allow me to share with you the story behind these words:
The Roman orator Cicero (hence the Latin) retold Herodotus’ account of the battle of Thermopylae, where the Spartan king, Leonidas, led a mere 7,000 men against over 100,000 Persian invaders. When asked to report, a scout betrayed his sense of despair at seeing such a tremendous force with these words to Dienekes, a Spartan soldier: “Their arrows will blot out the sun!”
To which Dienekes replied, “IN UMBRA, IGITUR, PUGNABIMUS!”
“So much the better, we will fight in the shade!”
Friends and fellow warriors, the darkness is gathering more thickly each day in our world. Many of our former comrades have fled or turned against us, succumbing to the approaching terror and abandoning the truth of the Gospel for the sake of preserving their own temporal well-being. As we stand near the battle-lines and survey the vast host of the armies of darkness that have been arrayed against us, paralyzing fear grips our hearts. What is our response to this seemingly insurmountable threat?
Very well, then. We will fight in the shade.
And indeed we will. I do not mean to say that Satan’s hordes could ever blot out the light of God’s truth with their onslaught of fiery darts; truly, it shines all the more clearly in the face of darkness and adversity. However, we will be shaded by the wings of our mighty and caring Heavenly Father. His love, His mercy, and His strength will form a shield around us to protect and preserve our faith even in the face of every evil that comes swarming against us, no matter how dark the days may become.
“And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife,
though these all be gone, our victory has been won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth.” ~Martin Luther (A Mighty Fortress is Our God)
Yes, my friends; the battle belongs to the Lord. Our faith rests securely in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, sealed and delivered to us in faith solely through His grace. What have we to fear? “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). Thanks to Christ’s sacrifice as the mediator between God and mankind, God is and ever will be for us and with us, sheltering us beneath the wings of His love. Though all the adversity of this world rails against us, it cannot prevail against the ultimate victory that we have through the cross. Christ Himself tells us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
King Leonidas himself was approached by the Persian ambassadors before the battle at Thermopylae began. Knowing the odds against this king and his lowly army, and expecting him to immediately comply, they commanded him to lay down his arms. To which he replied:
“Come get them.”
Do not despair, my friends. Our eternal equipment will see us through whatever battles may rage in the days to come. The Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit, is strong to save. Let Satan come and once more taste the Blade which brought about his destruction. Though the hands that wield this supreme Weapon are frail and weak, the foe will never pry it from our grasp, for the Sword itself is invincible, and One who forged it and delivered it to us is ever by our side.
Does Satan come roaring against us? Fine. Come and get it. Do the evils of the world gather more thickly with each passing day? Very well. Then we will fight in the shade. Our Lord Jesus Christ has overcome the world and all its troubles. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Give your Church the everlasting rest she longs for.
Until that time, we will fight.
“Through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes. I put no trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame. In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever.” (Psalm 44:5-8)
See also 2 Chron. 20:12-19
Prayer: Heavenly Father, arm us with Your Word, that we may go boldly forth and proclaim the Good News of salvation to all who are in the clutches of sin and darkness. Keep us steadfast in faith against the attacks of Satan, this world, and our own flesh. Preserve and sanctify us by Your Holy Spirit, holding us ever in Your strong hand, that we may come at last to everlasting life and rest; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Commander, King, and Friend. Amen.
From the pages of Building Christian Character through The Hobbit – Now available! Click the “Books Available” tab at the top of this page to preview chapters 1-4 or to order a copy.
Chapter XIV – “Fire and Water”
“The dragon is inevitable – and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.”
Like the colonists living in Patrick Henry’s day, the people of Esgaroth have been living in the shadow of terror for too long. Until they face the dragon that looms over them, they can never truly be free. The dwarves and Bilbo have awakened the dragon’s wrath and stirred up his malice toward the men of Lake-town, but that is just as well – especially knowing that Smaug is destined to die in this battle.
Mr. Henry goes on in his speech to the Virginia Convention in 1775: “Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace – but there is no peace…What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God!”
The people of Esgaroth are so focused on their present suffering and the destruction of their town that they fail to see the wonderful, miraculous fact that seems so plain to us: Smaug is dead! The monster of the north has been slain and the people of this region are now free from his centuries-long reign of terror. While they may curse Thorin and Company for causing their present hardship, they ought to also recognize that the dwarves set into motion the chain of events that would lead to this great victory.
People have a way of delaying the inevitable. As Christians, we often put off unpleasant battles in the hopes that the threat will just go away on its own, or remain sleeping beneath the mountain. But the truth is, the monster is growing in size and strength with each passing day and year that we avoid confronting it – and the best we can hope for is that it will be our children or grandchildren who will have to combat the beast someday. What terrible cowardice!
There are many difficult issues in our society that Christians are often reluctant to grapple with. At best, we engage in minor skirmishes, hoping that it will be enough to stave off the threat without risking open war. We make concessions to our faith and values, hoping that these compromises will reconcile us to the world. They won’t.
So let it come. Let us be the ones to wage spiritual warfare in our nation and world over issues of life, social values, and religious freedoms. Let us boldly confront the evils in our society, even though it may mean a breach between Christianity and secular complacency. Old alliances with those who undermine all that we believe and stand for may need to be cast down as we fend off the Dragon’s assault. But it’s better that we take our stand now – while yet free to speak up and armed with the Gospel – than to relegate the task to our offspring who may be shackled and fettered with oppressive laws and a government that silences truth and wisdom.
We need to sound the alarm and take up arms against the Dragon right now, because he comes swiftly toward us breathing out deadly lies and fiery deceptions. Christians at this time must especially take a stand on who God is and what He came to do. There are many today calling themselves Christians who preach that Jesus came only to teach morality and self-enlightenment; that He was merely a wise teacher who set an example for how to live. The battle-lines must be drawn here and now. We must preach Christ crucified; that Jesus Christ is the true Son of God who died and rose again to atone for the sins of the world. On this, there must be no compromise, because this is the truth and the difference between eternal life and everlasting death.
This will be a fierce battle. We may risk much of what we have built up in times of prosperity to face the Dragon on this issue right now. It will cause division and discord within our communities and country, because the world does not want to hear that Jesus is the only Way to the Father. We will be condemned as intolerant – the worst possible sin of in postmodern society. But the longer we postpone this battle, the stronger the Dragon will be when we finally face him and the more divided the Church will become, leaving the conflict to our descendants to fight with less hope and less strength than we currently possess.
We cannot afford to let sleeping dragons lie. We must proclaim God’s Word – Law and Gospel – in truth and purity; even if it awakens all the fire-breathing menaces of every pagan religion, every secular humanist philosophy, and every false prophet that preaches any other Jesus than the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We mustn’t allow our cowardice to hand down this great task to our children for the sake of a false sense of peace and unity in Church and world. We must fight.
The Dragonslayer’s sacrifice…
He spoke harsh words that were difficult to hear and were rejected by many. He warned the people of the approaching doom, and fought on their behalf so that they could have life and freedom. He was a descendant of kings, and the only one who could know the secret to defeating the evil monster. He stood alone at last, enduring the flames of the dragon’s wrath, scorned by many and abandoned by his companions, because he alone could defeat the menacing beast and save them all. He gave up his life to defeat the dragon, quelling its fierce might forever, but falling under the death-throes of his terrible enemy. And when all hope had faded, he rose again victoriously and was exalted as king.
Sound familiar? The triumph of Bard over Smaug is a striking parallel to the victory of Jesus Christ over the Devil. While Bard may not be a perfect Christ-figure throughout the rest of the book, this particular instance provides an awesome image of the Son of God come to save those who had rejected Him. And all in all, Bard serves as a great example of Christian virtue contrasted with the greed and hypocrisy around him.
Bard was condemned by his contemporaries for prophesying “gloomy” things; not that anyone disputed the truth and veracity of his claims, but it just wasn’t very pleasant to listen to. Similarly, Jesus lost many followers and was rejected by a number of would-be disciples because of his hard teachings; things like being willing to give up earthly possessions and duties to follow Him, being “born again,” forgiveness based on faith by God’s grace, eating and drinking His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, and even His own death at the hands of His enemies. Like Bard, Jesus would eventually be vindicated in all of His claims. Those who rejected His words didn’t do so based on evidence to the contrary, but rather simply because it was easier for them to believe something else.
Just as Bard is the last descendant in the line of Girion, Lord of Dale, so Jesus was the Promised One in fulfillment of the Messianic line, reaching back to King David, Abraham, and all the way to Adam – the first recipient of the Gospel promise. Being of the race of Dale, Bard was the only one who could understand the thrush and unlock the secret to defeating Smaug. His black arrow that had been passed down from his father and “came from the forges of the true king” would prove to be the key to Smaug’s downfall. Jesus, as the only begotten Son of God, was the only One whose blood was free from the curse of sin and who knew the way to defeat Satan, the great Dragon. He was “from the True King,” and the black arrow of His divinity would be the shaft that would pierce the Dragon’s heart and bring him crashing down in ruin.
In the end Bard stood alone, abandoned by his companions, and faced the dragon while surrounded by the flames of his wrath. Jesus’ companions all fled to save themselves, though they had sworn to stay by His side – even if it meant death. He faced down the dragon, enduring the agony of the very flames of Hell as the Devil’s malice was poured out upon Him. He fought our battle upon the cross so that we could enter the lifeboat of His Church and freely obtain life and salvation through the waters of baptism, just as the people of Esgaroth fled to safety through the waters of the Long Lake while Bard battled Smaug.
Jesus certainly did not escape the battle unscathed. Just as Smaug came crashing down upon Bard in his last throes, so too did Satan strike the heel of Jesus with physical death and the torments of Hell even as he fell in utter defeat. But like Bard, Jesus emerged victoriously amidst cries of mourning to claim His rightful title of King and Lord, claiming the honor of defeating the Dragon and freeing the people from his reign of terror – and of securing all the treasures of heaven on our behalf!