“When you go out to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and 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 out of the land of Egypt. 2 And when you draw near to the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people 3 and shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, 4 for the LORD your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.’ (Deut 20:1-4)
We are naturally afraid of things that are larger than us. We are not scared of a barking chihuahua, but we would do well to run from a charging grizzly bear. We are afraid at the thought of being attacked alone by a mugger on a dark night, but we feel safer in the company of three or four friends.
The people of Israel lived under the constant threat of war from neighboring nations with armies that dwarfed their own. Furthermore, their enemies often possessed military resources that gave them an enormous advantage in battle. The charge of warhorses would shake the very ground that the armies stood on, sending fear into the knees of even the bravest soldiers. Archers riding on chariots could send their deadly arrows into the ranks of Israelite soldiers like stinging hornets and then flit away quickly to a safe distance. Heavy horses and chariot wheels surging across a battlefield could overwhelm an army of infantry by simply crushing them underfoot.
Now, although such an army could perhaps be defeated by a larger army, the Scriptures expressly forbade the Israelite kings from acquiring many horses for themselves (Deut 17:16). How odd it would seem! Don’t we all know that being outnumbered in battle is generally a bad idea? What king, going out to war, does not first deliberate whether he’s able to fight an enemy army of twenty thousand with his own army of a mere ten thousand? (Luke 14:31) Yet, God was clear that the Israelites were not to amass for themselves these horses and chariots. And the reason for this express prohibition on gathering military might was so that they would know that it was the LORD who took care of them. Their divinely limited army served as a daily reminder that no matter how much they grew or how rich they became, ultimately it was the LORD who “brought them up out of the land of Egypt,” who would continue to fight for them if they would only wholeheartedly obey his commands.
And this is true for us as Christians as well! Though we might feel alone or outnumbered in our daily battles, we do not need to be afraid if the LORD God fights for us. We may feel dumb and incapable of engaging a wise and well-spoken individual with the Gospel, but we do not need to be afraid if the LORD fight for us! We may look with envy at those around us who have access to better technology, more money, greater numbers and feel despair at our own deplorable lack. Yet, we do not need to be afraid if the LORD fights for us!
Brothers and sisters, it is better to go with faith in God and a shepherd’s sling than dressed in the armor of Saul. It is better to enter spiritual battle with the sword of the Spirit and knees that are bruised from the rigors of extended prayer than it is to have money, intelligence and manpower. How careful we must be when it comes to acquiring for ourselves “horses and chariots” that tantalize us with offers of safety and security in this world when it is only the LORD our God who can truly save!
Christian, are you facing insurmountable odds in your life? Are you in a desperate situation because your obedience to our Lord’s commands has caused an army of people who despise God to rise against you? Are you discouraged because what you now have seems so small when compared with those around you?
Take heart, brothers and sisters, and remember that nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few (1 Sam 14:6). The LORD who loves us will not let us live under the cruel delusion that it is our own hand that saves us. And though our army of thirty thousand may have been reduced to but three hundred (Judg 7), we may fight with courage knowing that the LORD has given our Midianite enemies into our hands. Oh Lord, let us never turn to the world for provisions to live the Christian life lest we fool ourselves into believing that what was begun by the Spirit can now only be accomplished by the army of flesh. And may You get the glory as we come to you in humble dependence. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. (Ps 20:7)