Jeff Smith

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Solid Food

Against All Odds

In a moment of oratory excellence, the apostle Paul wrote, “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep what I have committed to him until that day” (2 Timothy 1:12).

Christian Paul had an enormous record of history behind that statement; his faith, you see was not blind, but intelligently secured and practiced. The fact is, there are certain things that our omnipotent God absolutely cannot do. One of them is lie and another is fail (Hebrews 6:17-18). The Bible account bears these great truths out and inspires confidence on every page that the faithful will be preserved.

There was the time in the book of Exodus when he sent a single, ineloquent man before Pharaoh to plead for Israel’s release from Egyptian slavery. After nine episodes of ultimate rejection, God carried the cause in the Passover night and sent his people on toward Canaan.

He sent them, however, into a corner and the pursuing armies soon trapped them against the mighty Red Sea. Just when all seemed darkest and hope was lost, Moses raised his rod and the prodigious pond parted in two. Imagine the expressions of awe on the faces of the Hebrews as drops of water misted upon them while the raging forces on either side were held at bay. When the last Israelite footprint was made on dry land, the sea closed again and swept away Pharaoh’s pursuit. Against all odds, God had claimed victory.

It was often Israel whose doubt of God exceeded even that of the heathen. As the nation approached the land of promise, Moses sent twelve spies inside the land to determine the best strategy for conquest. When they arrived, ten of the twelve were as white as ghosts. “Then they told him, and said: ‘We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit [a cluster of grapes so large it had to be carried between two poles]. Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak [giants] there’” (Num. 13:27-29). Caleb’s response to this pessimistic report was to go up immediately and take what God had promised; Joshua concurred. The ten spies replied, however: “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.” The inhabitants are too big and they will tear us up; we are but grasshoppers in their sight.

This report caused the nation to cry on their pillows that night; they had conceded defeat without lifting a finger to fight the war, without giving God a chance to lift his finger. When Moses finally settled things down, courage was renewed and the spirit of Joshua and Caleb spread enough that conquest began. Great cities fell including Jericho, where Rahab reported that the people’s hearts melted when they knew Jehovah’s army was approaching. She had greater trust in the Lord than Israel. Against larger armies, alliances and all odds, Israel conquered Canaan.

The nation sank back into sin, though, when Joshua died. Judges began to lead Israel through cycles of apostasy. The man Gideon was chosen as judge and given the task of delivering the nation from Midianite oppression. He showed up one day with a force of 32,000 soldiers, greatly outnumbered by the opposition army which numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Instead of telling Gideon to raise the muster, he shockingly stated: “The people who are with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against me” (Judges 7:2). He whittled the Hebrew army down to 10,000 but still considered it too large and prone to pride. When he got it down to 300, he was satisfied.

You don’t have to be a statistician or military expert to handicap this battle. Three hundred men do not defeat more than a hundred thousand under any circumstances. But that’s the point. God was teaching Israel to fight by faith and not by sight by going before them and obtaining impossible victories. The historian says that Israel “routed the whole army” (8:12).

The reader, no doubt recalls the battle of David and Goliath. The giant had been mocking Jehovah and teasing Israel until a young shepherd boy arrived to survey the scene. David found the rest of his nation — his brothers and King Saul included — trembling like cowards before this verbal pollution. David volunteered to meet Goliath in battle, without any consideration that he might lose, despite assurances of defeat from all around him.

Goliath “disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and good-looking” (1 Sam. 17:42). David, too small of flesh to wear Saul’s armor, but accoutered with a shield of faith and a breastplate of righteousness, approached the giant with a taunt: “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand .... Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hands” (17:46-47).

David charged the monster and then slung a single, smooth stone into his forehead; the giant died on the spot. David prevailed because God beats the odds and accomplished the “impossible.”

Jewish people today continue to celebrate the feast of Purim, a commemoration of the work that a pretty young girl named Esther achieved to save the nation from extermination at the hands of the evil Haman and gullible Ahasuerus. Outnumbered and overpowered, Israel was dwindling until Esther found her way into the palace and won the king’s hand and ear. By the time her reign ended in Persia, Israel was strong enough to survive into the days of Christ.

Our faithful lives are so often opposed and confronted by all manner of obstacles. Our knees weaken and our hands hang down in despair because all seems lost (Hebrews 12:12-13). We respond to adversity no better than the ten spies or David’s brothers, even though we have a greater fount of hope upon which to draw than they.

Dejectedly, we concede defeat. “I am never going to understand the Bible. I will never be a good singer. This church will never grow. This community is as dark and dumb as Zebulun and Naphtali. Young people today are not as faithful as in my day.”

Complaints like that make you a fellow-traveler with the kneeling drinkers in Gideon’s army and the trembling brothers of David at Goliath’s camp. Because the pessimistic report of the ten spies in Canaan led to such widespread worry and complaining, God wanted to destroy all of Israel and start over with Moses’s progeny. Shall we line up with Joshua and Caleb, on the side of confidence, courage and industry, or crawl under Korah’s rock?

The moral of the story is simple. Walk by faith and not by sight, for the odds always seemed to be stacked against God, but that is no accident. When all seems lost and the weak consider spiritual success an impossibility, the Lord is just waiting to do something remarkable.

He is ready to deliver his people from the oppression of a defeatist devil by that form of doctrine, which has never changed or weakened since it was delivered once for all (Romans 6:16).

He is ready to part seas of doubt and worry (Matthew 6:25-34). Discipleship is to be a state of physical contentment, acceptance of what one has and the peace to accept what one does not without falling prey to covetousness (Philippians 4:11-13). “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

He is ready to work with us in conquering vast realms of the unconverted (Mark 16:19-20, Matthew 28:18-20). He says, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” Remember, though, there is no “Lo,” without the “go.” Forsaking evangelism (personal and public) in the fear of an unkind world is no different than listening to the ten spies.

“But this church is too small!” “I am the only Christian in my class at school.” “I am the only Christian at work.” What kind of influence can we have in such small numbers? Remember Gideon’s army? Ask the Midianites what kind of influence they had! Was not David undermanned before mighty Goliath? On paper yes, but that is the reason they don’t fight the actual battles on paper. David had an intangible weapon and so can you (Ephesians 6:10-20).

Queen Esther was the female, latter day David, in my book. Young ladies take note. For her faith and her cause, she risked her very life. “If I perish, I perish,” she said and surely could have. Esther became a heroine, as great as Deborah, because her faith allowed her to consider that when the odds are stacked against the Lord’s cause, he just might be preparing a surprise.

David noted what God was teaching Gideon with his military downsizing. It is the Lord who fights the battles and beats the odds. Our God has not changed. Was not an attempt to convert the wicked persecutor Saul of Tarsus logically an exercise in futility?

God so often defies the odds, but you will never be on that amazing, victorious side unless you put away the pessimism and complaints and step up to the line. Then can our faith overcome the world.

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