Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Deuteronomy 20.1-9 (When It Requires Our Faith)

Deuteronomy 20 begins,

"When you go out to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots, an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them; for the Lord your God is with you, who brought you up from the land of Egypt." (v.1)
And then two leaders step up to address the people. First, the priest. And then the military officials. The priest stands up to rally the people by reiterating the posture of faith,

"Hear, O Israel! Today you are drawing near to do battle against your enemies. Do not lose heart, or be afraid, or panic, or be in dread of them; for it is the Lord your God who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to give you victory." (vv.3-4)
After this faith challenge, the military officials step up with a reality check. He addresses those with worries in their hearts due to the matters of life that need tending to (new homes, new vineyards, marriage in the works). He tells them to step back and go home. He summarizes his talk this way,
"Is anyone afraid or disheartened? He should go back to his house, or he might cause the heart of his comrades to melt like his own." (v.8b)
And then with those who are left, the army is to go to war with God leading them onto certain victory.

It is a fascinating teaching. There are two parts to this. First, there is Truth. It is a truth for all time. That truth is that no matter what is in front of us, no matter how large the opposition or task, our God is with us and he will fight for us to give us victory. And then, secondly, there is Faith. Can we trust in this invisible God when we can see, by our human logic and crunching of the numbers, that the tast is seemly too difficult or nearly impossible? Can we truly trust and obey?

Several things to point out.

1) But, is it God's battle? We know that our God will not lead us into ALL battles (i.e., Num 14.39f). He will lead us only in those battles he himself commands us to fight. Too many times, we hear church leaders proclaim that a certain project, or a direction is God's will. Well, is it? I admit that I have used the phrase, "it's God's will" several times and then had to step back and apologize to God and to the congregation. This is a great sin for us church leaders. We must not use God's name in our selfish projects -- people expect us pastors and elders to hear from God and then to act upon God's instructions, not the other way around. We must not create a project or form a direction apart from God, and then ask God to bless it, and/or turn to the people and declare that it's of God. And it is never right to assume something is of God even if the task seems godly enough. It is imperative for the leaders to hear from God, to confirm with God, to be able to stand before God and know it is God's command. This is the foundation of this passage. The task, the project, the fight, the mission. It must be a directive from God.

For many people in the church, the issue is not a matter of their faith. The issue has to do with #1. Is it really a direction God is taking us? Is this project really of God? The leaders of the church must prayerfully address this first.

And this can be applied to our home situation, or to our school/work situation as well. That's because our God cares about those things and wants to be Lord over all matters of life. Where is God leading me? What does he want with my skills and talents? Once we understand God's will and direction, it requires our faith to trust God because our God will fight for us and will give us victory.

2) Is my faith big enough? Even if we see that the battle is God's will and command, there is a matter of our faith that is addressed in this passage. In fact, many times, it is the lack of faith that will cast doubt that the task is of God. No matter how many times and how many methods are used to show that the battle is of God, there are the denials and the doubts (Gideon comes to mind. But even he came around at the end). That is because, by declaring that the task is not of God, our lack of faith remains unexposed, hidden from the people. It is a daunting task to trust in an invisible God. It is truly difficult to put all of our eggs in one basket "by faith."

That is why God graciously gives us an out. We must check our faith. If it is not big enough, then recognized it for what it is. And then step aside for the faithful -- rather than pollute the rest with our doubt and faithlessness.

3) But God wants us to live by faith. Even though God gives us an out, the desire of God is that we become participants in God's battle, side by side with other faithful ones. He wants us to taste the victory that comes from God rather than hear about it from others. He wants us to enjoy God's presence and activity as participants, rather than clapping as spectators. So how to live by faith? We do it day by day, week by week. We fill our intellect with God's Word daily, we listen to praises and sermons through the radio as we drive, and we consider the will of God in our daily activities -- "what would Jesus do?" And when we practice faith in the little things, before we know it, our faith increases and our doubts decrease.

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