The Courage of Israel
by Marilyn Mack
January 14, 2004

I�ve been thinking about the courage of Israel, and it brings me to only one concept for myself in my salvation: stay the course. Stay the course in spite of what the battle looks like; stay the course in spite of the losses you incur. Stay the course in spite of what your enemy is saying, and in spite of the bleak outlook of the future. Because one thing in certain: �Through God we shall do valiantly; for he it is that shall tread down our enemies.�

But, you may say, Marilyn I am not treading down my enemies, no matter how hard I try! I know the feeling � sometimes it seems that you go forth in the strength of God only to be handed defeat after defeat. But consider the courage of Israel; consider the courage of Jesus Christ, who is our perfect example.

I was reading today in Judges chapters 20 and 21, and I was just amazed at the resiliency that Israel showed in the face of their circumstances. This is the time when some of the men of Benjamin had committed an abominable sin, and the other tribes of Israel gathered together and requested that Benjamin give up the wrongdoers and deliver them for judgment. Benjamin refused, so Israel gathered together for war against Benjamin.

Now Israel had 400,000 men, and Benjamin had 26,700 men, which included the 700 men they left behind in Gibeah. And it states in verse 18 that Israel asked counsel of God concerning who should go up first against Benjamin. God instructed them that Judah should go up first.

I imagine that the children of Israel felt confident in the justice of their cause: they were in obedience the Mosaic Law, and were following the counsel given them by God�they were doing what was RIGHT! And on Day One of the battle, Benjamin, with his 26,000 men, killed 22,000 men of Israel, and Israel went home a loser. Why had God let them down? Hadn�t they followed his instruction? Hadn�t they been in obedience to the law? Why didn�t God cause them to win a great victory that day? They were on the side of right. They were on the Lord�s side. Why had God sent them up to be killed so humiliatingly by a tribe with barely 1/16th of the men Israel had?

In spite of these hurtful questions, Israel, no doubt, notified the families of the dead, shook it off, and in verse 22, it tells us that they encouraged themselves. Then they went and cried tears before God and asked him again, whether they should go up against Benjamin. And God instructed them to go up: again.

So on Day Two of the battle, Israel, minus 22,000 men, went up against Benjamin again. And Benjamin, now with approximately 1/15th of the men Israel had, came out of Gibeah and killed 18,000 men of Israel, and sent them packing. This time, Israel went straight to the house of God and cried tears before him, fasting all day. Hadn�t they been in his will? Hadn�t they acknowledged him? Hadn�t they encouraged themselves in the Lord? Yet God had sent them up to die: again.

And still: instead of charging God, instead of taking the attitude that God was against them, and not to be trusted, they once again humbled themselves to him and enquired whether they should go up against their brother Benjamin. I wonder if in their hearts they stood terrified that they would again be sent to their deaths�and they stood there and humbled themselves to their fate. I wonder if their thought was: if I die at the hands of God�so be it. I wonder if they thought to themselves, �I don�t know of any wrongdoing on my part, but I accept whatever God does to me.� And they received their answer: God once again told them to go up. But this time, he told them he would bring them their deliverance: this time, they would win.

On Day Three, for the third time, in obedience, Israel went out against Benjamin. This time, they decided to play possum. They used Benjamin�s confidence against him. They put 10,000 men in hiding around Gibeah, to burn the city once the other warriors had drawn Benjamin away from the city. So Israel went against Gibeah, and Benjamin rose up, and like he did the two times before, began to kill Israel. Verse 31 says, �They began to smite of the people, and kill, as at other times.� And Benjamin got cocky, and said in verse 32, �they are smitten down before us, as at the first.� Then Israel fled out of the city into the highways, playing possum. Benjamin followed, and Israel began to win. Finally, the 10,000 men in hiding went up against Gibeah, and fought to burn it. While they were fighting in Gibeah, the men in the field played possum again�they �retired in the battle,� and once again, Benjamin got cocky. That is, until they saw their city burning. Then they ran, were followed and killed. Verse 37 tells us that 600 men of Benjamin escaped to the wilderness for 4 months.

Israel, having lost 2 battles, won the war.

And you know something? Even after they won the war, and in spite of their great loss of men, they were still moved with compassion on the remnant of the tribe of Benjamin, their brother. They wept before God out of love and concern for their brother. In spite of the fact that they lost above 40,000 lives to the men of Benjamin. Truly, they loved their brother. How amazing! Where was the bitterness? The bloodlust? The cry for vengeance? The hate for the men that murdered their families? It wasn�t there. In the end, they had only been doing the will of God�the right thing to do. Israel�s war was never born of hate�it was born of justice, and once justice was served, they wanted to pick up the pieces and restore their brother.

What has been on my mind is the greatness of their faith in the integrity of God. They trusted God on Day One, then on Day Two, and then again on Day Three. They had to have had blind faith, because if they had looked to the results of what they received, by rights, they should have given up; called a truce; held up the white flag. It makes me believe that we cannot live a �results-oriented� salvation. God holds the results, and sometimes, he does not reveal his long-range plan to us. Sure, we know the �Big Picture.� God is right, he triumphs, obey him and you, too, will triumph. That is the Big Picture. But as the saying goes: the Devil is in the details!

Israel was right, and they were on the side of right. On Day One, when they believed wholeheartedly that they would triumph, they were correct! They would triumph, as was God�s perfect plan. Just not on Day One. As it came to pass, not on Day Two, either. It would appear that it was God�s perfect plan for them to triumph on Day Three. How were they to know this? They didn�t! So when they lost when they believed they should have won, they had to keep faith in the Big Picture, and overlook the detailed, small picture, short-term result. They had to do like Abraham, and see the invisible�see what was not evident.

God help me! The Bible teaches us that we are more than conquerors, so what does a saint who is obeying God do when they are losing? The hymn says, �did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing.� Praise God that we do not walk in our own strength, for if we did, the perceived results would be true�we would be losing. But we are persuaded better things of God. So if in God, we appear to be losing, we can say like Job in 13:13, �though he slay me, yet will I trust him.� Or as David said in Psalm 42, �why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.� Yet signifies in spite of. In spite of the results, I will obey.

Think about Christ. In 2 places he travailed 3 times. In Gethsemane, he went to God in prayer, yet was unable to break through. He could have taken the attitude that�God says pray without ceasing, but he isn�t helping me, so I won�t trust him. Yet, he went back a second time, and still did not break through. Why not then? Wasn�t he in obedience? Why did God not step in right away when he saw his Beloved Son hurting? Surely he was able to! The Bible says in Isaiah 45:15, �verily thou art a God that hideth thyself.� Christ humbled himself a third time and was able to receive the help he needed to overcome.

In another instance, Christ died�was killed and remained dead for 3 days. He was spitefully treated before he was killed, and I suppose his enemy rejoiced over the perceived victory. He died, and from all human and fleshly standpoints, lost the battle. Oh! the devastation! Why had this come to be? We all know why in hindsight, but who was able to understand the situation as it unfolded right on top of them? Did his mother and followers stand there and watch their hope die? Who can comprehend the doubts that ran through their minds? Did they ask themselves why God had let this day come? It is possible that they did not yet understand the depth of the victory Christ was winning, and may have only perceived a defeat.

What faith then? Jesus said in Matthew 26:37, �smite the shepherd and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered.� The enemy smote Christ in killing him�and the flock faced a crisis. Wasn�t God true? Hadn�t they done what he said? What did this mean? Why had this happened?

And Jesus didn�t rise on Day One. And his enemies rejoiced. Oh the doubt! He didn�t rise on Day Two. Were the saints hurt? Were they afraid? Was the enemy breathing out cruelty and reveling in his short-term victory? Was he telling the saints that God was a liar after all? That God had let them down? Did they hold onto faith through the night? Because the long-range plan of God was culminated on Day Three�Christ rose from the dead. He rose from the ashes of a perceived defeat and won a greater, more far reaching victory. How glorious!

A scary thought has been buzzing around my memory lately: it seems like God accomplishes his victory through great personal pain. In all these examples, the losses sustained by the victor were great. But as it says somewhere in the Bible: �thou hast gained thy brother.� Both Israel and Jesus comprehended their sacrifice�they knew how much they lost! And still, even in judgment, they loved their brother: even though it was he that killed them.

This is an awe-inspiring thought to me. Pray my strength! If it looks to you like your losses are great, and you know that you are in the will of God; if it seems that your enemy is rejoicing over you and God is sending you up to your death: stay the course, and when you obtain your long-term victory, love your brother.

�2003 Marilyn K. Mack. All rights reserved.

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