Ezekiel – Fighting an Uphill Battle

“You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen” (Ezekiel 2:7)

Elijah wasn’t the only warrior who God had called to a difficult ministry.  Ezekiel found himself proclaiming “mourning and woe” to the unrepentant people of Israel.  It must have been difficult to continue faithfully professing God’s Word to a hostile audience, often at great personal risk and sacrifice, especially knowing that the rebellious house of Israel would not listen.  However, God also promised to be with Ezekiel, giving him the strength and fortitude to carry out his mission: “But the house of Israel is not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for the whole house of Israel is hardened and obstinate.  But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are.  I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint.  Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house” (Ezekiel 3:7-9)

Despite immediate rejection, God was working through Ezekiel in His own way and His own time, and Ezekiel’s words from God would have a tremendous impact on the exiled Israelites at a later date.  God promised that His Word would not go out in vain: “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.  Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  They will be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 11: 19-20).  Although Israel’s guilt was immense, God would remove the stain of their sin, promising that He would “make atonement for you for all you have done” (Ezekiel 16:63).

Sometimes Ezekiel probably felt like he was preaching to a bunch of dead bodies.  Turns out, this was literally true (see Ezekiel 37:1-14).  The people of Israel had become spiritually dead.  They had detached themselves from the Living God and no longer sought life and nourishment in His Word.  Could anything restore life and flesh to these “dry bones”?  Absolutely.  The Breath and Spirit of God could come into even these decrepit cadavers and bring new life and vitality to a nation of men and women who were utterly decayed.  Although Ezekiel had been given a bitter task, the ultimate call to repentance and salvation through God’s Word was “as sweet as honey” in his mouth (3:3).

If the sweetness has gone out of your ministry, feed once again upon the honey of God’s story of salvation.  Know that his Word does not go out of you in vain.  When all you see are dry bones, speak the Breath of God and let Him raise up the mighty armies in His own time.  Though the fighting is bitter, the victory that we have through Jesus Christ is all the sweeter when we see hearts of stone being melted and hope renewed.  What could be better than that?

“As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep.  I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness…I will search for the lost and bring back the strays.  I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak” (Ezekiel 34:12,16)

Prayer: Lord God, Heavenly Father, let all those who struggle with difficult ministries taste and share the sweetness of Your Word.  Give them strength and courage to fight on, reassuring them of Your promise to make Your Word fruitful.  Empower us with Your Spirit as we breathe Life in a land of dry bones, through the resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

David – Defending God’s Honor

“Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:27)

King Saul and his Israelite warriors were suffering from an acute lack of faith.  Saul went from following God’s commands and serving Him to rebellion and self-glorification in a matter of a few short years.  The Israelite warriors had forgotten that they served a powerful Heavenly King rather than a physically impressive but spiritually weak mortal king.  Their faith rested in their own power, and fear and doubt were the inevitable results.

When Goliath spews his bile once more, the Israelite warriors run for cover.  But David will not suffer His God to be mocked and scorned while His very armies are close at hand; he stands valiantly for the honor of the Almighty One.   How can we let this Philistine talk about our God like that?  The Spirit of the Lord was with David (1 Samuel 16:13,18), and from this Spirit was born the faith that God would deliver His people from their enemies.  This same Spirit gives David the courage and strength to stand up against the monstrous villain who was bringing calamity and destruction upon the Israelites.

Like Gideon, David knows that the power to defeat his enemies lies in God’s hands, not his own: “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the Lord will hand you over to me…and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.  All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands” (1 Samuel 17:45-47).  Because David goes forth in faith, mindful of God’s honor, glory, and purpose – and not his own fame or grandeur – the Lord gives David the victory over Goliath.

Again and again, God chooses the lowly to exalt His name.  The boy David glorifies God with his triumph over the champion of the Philistines.  His descendant, Jesus, the humble carpenter’s son, born of a virgin in a lowly manger, would bring even greater glory to the Father through His victory over the champion of this world – Satan.  The forces of death and hell were put to flight, never to menace God’s people again.  The same Spirit that gave David the faith to overcome the Philistine gives us the faith to claim Jesus’ victory for ourselves.

Armed with this faith, with God’s promise to be with us, and with a burning desire to honor our Lord and King, we venture forth onto the field of battle to encounter the forces of darkness.  Like the Israelite warriors, we often cower in our tents when we see the size and might of the foe that mocks God’s name.  But when we see our enemy through the eyes of faith, we realize, like David, that the spiritual darkness in our world is a joke compared to God’s mighty hand.  So we rise each morning, look the forces of evil in the eye, and say to our King, “Your servant will go and fight.”

“The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Samuel 17:37)

Prayer: Lord God, my Heavenly King, let me never lose heart on account of the darkness and adversity of this world.  Keep my faith firm, knowing that You who have delivered me from sin, death, and hell will also deliver me from all the trials of this life; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, to whom all glory belongs!  Amen.

Samson – Hero of Strength and Weakness

“Then Samson prayed to the Lord, ‘O Sovereign Lord, remember me.’” (Judges 16:28)

There has never been a hero of the faith who did not possess flaws – the curse of sin affects even the most righteous of God’s warriors.  But there is perhaps no hero in the Bible with deeper moral and spiritual weaknesses than Samson, a fact made all the more tragic and ironic by his great physical strength.  How can such a man still be considered a hero of the faith?  Because his spiritual strength, like his physical strength, ultimately comes from God alone.

While Samson obeys the explicit instruction for living as a Nazirite, he tends to flout the other commands that God’s people had been given.  He certainly seems to have a weakness for women, especially those women outside the faith community – something that God had forbidden because of the spiritual danger that results from domestic life with the worshipper of a pagan religion.  His lust, along with his rage and arrogance, transform him into a “tragic hero” as he deals with the consequences of his sinful behavior.

And yet, it is when Samson is brought to his lowest point that God gives him his most glorious triumph yet.  Blinded by the Philistines, Samson finally sees God as the true source of his power.  Imprisoned by his adversaries, Samson is finally free to serve God wholly and selflessly.  Humiliated by his foes, Samson finally achieves glory like never before – for His great God in whom the Israelites have always found deliverance.  It is God’s grace – not Samson’s physical strength – that delivers His people from bondage.  And it is God’s grace – not Samson’s own spiritual strength – that delivers Samson from his own sin as he turns once again to God in faith.

Ultimately, like Samson, we must face the reality that we are weak and blind, imprisoned by sin and powerless to do any good without God’s Spirit.  Samson is one of the greatest heroes of the faith precisely because he shows us that being a spiritual hero is not about our own strength or deeds, but about trusting in the Lord for strength and deliverance.  Like Samson, we must turn to our God in the midst of our spiritual prison and pray, “O Sovereign Lord, remember me!”  Let us show the world that our trust is in the merciful God who has always rescued his people from bondage and death, freely giving them life and renewal by His grace.  That is the way of the hero.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)

Prayer: Lord God, gracious Father, my strength and deliverance are found in You alone.  Let Your Holy Spirit be with me, giving me the strength to do Your will.  Let me always glorify Your name by telling the world how the weakness of our flesh and the corruption of our sin have been crushed and defeated by the power of the cross, through Jesus Christ, my risen Lord.  Amen.

Gideon – An Unworthy Hero

“Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand.  Am I not sending you?” (Judges 6:14)

It can be depressing for God’s warriors to realize just how utterly weak they really are.  Living under the curse of sin, we constantly fail in our commitments and undertakings.  We repeatedly question and doubt God.  We daily fall into temptation and sin, displaying hypocrisy and hatred more than love and joy.  We try to stand in our own strength and take matters into our own hands, continually being shamed and humiliated by our own lack of faith and spiritual weaknesses.  At the end of the day, it’s hard to feel much like a hero of the faith.

But the good news is, you’re exactly the kind of hero that God is looking for.  He seems to have this thing for using the small, the weak, the flawed, and the “unlikely” to achieve great deeds for Him.  Gideon, one of the most renowned heroes of the faith in all the Bible, was no exception.  He initially rejects the Lord’s calling, using his own weakness as an excuse.  He accuses God of abandoning His people (not vice-versa) and blames Him for their present misery.  Even after the Lord clearly manifests Himself, Gideon demands multiple signs before he’ll believe (God goes the extra mile and gives Him a “bonus” sign the night before the attack).  To top it off, he tries to hide his worship of the true God by sacrificing to Him under the cover of darkness rather than in the sight of his fellow men.

Despite all his shortcomings, Gideon achieves spectacular things through God’s help.  One thing can certainly be said of Gideon: he knows his own unworthiness and isn’t afraid to declare it before God and men.  He gives God the credit for his success, and even gives away his own share of glory for the sake of keeping the peace among God’s people (Judges 8:1-3).  In his battle cry, it is the Lord who comes first, then Gideon: “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” (Judges 7:20).  He even rejects an opportunity to become Israel’s king, reminding the people that their salvation and honor rests with God alone: “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you.  The Lord will rule over you” (Judges 8:23).

Yes, God knows your weaknesses and failures even better than you yourself do, and yet in His mercy He still greets you in the same way as He greeted Gideon: “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12).  Just as God whittled Gideon’s army of 32,000 men down to a measly 300 so that no one would doubt that it was God to whom the victory belonged; even so, God will display your weakness and unworthiness so that the world may know that you are saved by His perfection and not your own.

God is sending you today, only “in the strength you have” because His strength is more than sufficient for the task.  “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).  What an awesome God we serve who allows even spiritual wastrels like us to become mighty warriors and heroes of faith!

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” (Isaiah 40:29)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank and praise You for choosing me, an unworthy sinner, to be Your warrior and champion!  Guide and direct my paths, that all my actions will please and honor You.  Give me a humble heart, and use my weakness to bring glory to You and to the great victory You have achieved through Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Joshua – Strength and Courage

“Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

Perhaps the fearless warrior Caleb is surpassed in strength and courage only by his faithful companion and Moses’ protégé, Joshua.  God reminds Joshua when he assumes leadership of the Israelites that courageous obedience is a direct command from the Lord, as Caleb had testified many years earlier.

In his “inaugural address,” God tells Joshua three times in as many verses to “be strong and courageous.”  After all, he’s going to need plenty of strength and courage as he faces fortified cities, iron chariots, and warriors of incredible stature.  God knows that the tasks He is giving to Joshua are difficult indeed, and He therefore blesses him with strength and courage.  God’s Word is powerful, and it does what it says.  When He says, “Let there be light,” there is light.  When He says, “Lazarus, come out!” the dead man comes forth.  When He says, “Be strong and courageous,” he imparts strength and courage.

At the same time that God is blessing Joshua with the gifts he will need for the journey ahead, He is also emphasizing obedience to His Word: “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left…Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it…”  Even in this strict command, however, we find God’s grace at work in the form of promises attached to these orders: “…that you may be successful wherever you go…Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:7-8).

God’s Word always does what it says.  In the law, God promises strength, courage, and success for those who follow His commands; success in our most vital struggle of life – drawing ever nearer to Him.  But we don’t always follow His commands and obey His good and gracious law.  The good news is that He also promises something else: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

Yes, God’s Word is powerful and effective, and it can be trusted.  When He says, “Your sins are forgiven,” there is cleansing and renewal.  When He says, “I am with you always,” His presence is real and immediate.  Knowing this, we His warriors can venture forth with genuine strength and courage.

“So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.  You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace” (Isaiah 55:11-12).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, be with me on my journey this day.  Preserve my faith, keep me ever mindful of Your promises, and grant me true strength and courage to do Your will.  Wipe away all of my failures and restore me to service to You and to those people around me.  Let me always proclaim the source of my joy and peace; the promise of forgiveness and salvation through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord!  Amen.