Three Ways to Fight Our Battles
“Throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines” (1 Samuel 7:13). “All the days of Saul, there was bitter war with the Philistines” (1 Samuel 14:52).
I’m still trying to master the skill of fighting spiritual battles. As much as I seek to minimize my pain by staying in tune with God, I frequently falter. Inevitably, I neglect my relationship with Jesus long enough for life to become intolerable as I become overwhelmed with many battles.
While reading 1 Samuel 4-7, I noticed that the Scripture gave three examples of how Israel fought its battles against their arch enemy – the Philistines. It seemed to mirror my own experiences. Two examples of fighting proved disastrous. But one was supremely successful.
The book of 1 Samuel begins with a period of deep spiritual decline. The book of Judges defines this period with a repeated phrase, “In those days there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). Israel went through repeated cycles of forsaking God, being oppressed by their enemies, crying out to God for help, and God raising up a deliverer or judge to rescue them.
Although God used these judges to save Israel from its physical enemies, they did little to bring the nation back to God. Not even Eli, one of the last judges – who was also the high priest, inspired any return to God. Eli was profoundly negligent and allowed his sons, who served as priests, to bully and abuse worshippers who came to the sacred Tabernacle to worship (1 Samuel 2:12-17, 22-36).
So when the Philistines became a threat to Israel in the 11th Century BC, Israel rushed off to muster an army and go to war – without consulting God for guidance and help (1 Samuel 4:1-4). They were soundly defeated, suffering 4,000 dead.
Shocked by this defeat, they asked themselves, “Why did the LORD allow this defeat?” Sound familiar? We tend to do this anytime something bad happens. Hopefully, it leads us to do an azimuth check and make sure our hearts are right with the Lord.
But, again, without seeking God guidance and help, the Israelites figure it out for themselves. They reasoned, “It’s because we didn’t bring the sacred Ark of the Covenant with us into battle.” So, they sent soldiers to the Tabernacle in Shiloh to bring the Ark into battle (1 Samuel 4:1-9).
We tend to do this as well. When things go bad for Christians who have long neglected their personal relationship with Christ, they decide, “It’s time to bring God into this problem.” So we pray for God’s help to get us out of trouble, without realizing the greater trouble we’re in from continually neglecting God. God wants us to first be reconciled with Him and to align our lives with His will and purpose. But that’s the furthest thing from our thoughts. Our mind is preoccupied with the immediate battle and we want God’s help us against it.
But God will not comply with our carnal wishes. It’s kind of like Joshua’s encounter with a mysterious figure on the night before the battle of Jericho (Joshua 5:13-15). Without realizing He was the LORD of Hosts, Joshua demanded to know, “Are you for us or for our enemies.” The LORD replied, “Neither. But I have come as Commander of the LORD’s Army.” God doesn’t come to take sides in our battles. He comes to take command. And we will not experience victory until we surrender to Him and make Him the center of our lives.
How did Israel fare when they dragged the Ark of God into battle. They were slaughtered. 30,000 men fell before the Philistines. And the Ark? It was captured by the Philistines. Not only was Israel now a sitting duck before Philistia, but the Ark was in enemy hands. It seemed as a terrible defeat for God (1 Samuel 4:10-11).
Yet God was not defeated in this catastrophe. That became immediately apparent when the Philistines placed the Ark before the statue of Dagon, their God. God knocked Dagon flat on his face before the Ark. The Philistines propped him back up, but God knocked him down again and shattered him beyond repair (1 Samuel 5:1-5). Then, through the presence of the Ark, God struck the Philistines with plagues, killing many. In seven torturous months, the Philistines suffered more dead directly from God’s hand, than they had inflicted upon the Israelites. In desperation the Philistines sent the Ark back to its own people (1 Samuel 5:6-6:16). Clearly, God demonstrated that Israel’s defeat was not His defeat. God could easily fight His own battles.
Shaken by their terrible losses, Israel decided it was time to seek the LORD. And Samuel, the last and greatest of God’s judges, led them to repentance and faith in God. Samuel called the people to forsake all their worthless idols and to come to the city of Mizpah to sacrifice to the
LORD. As they gathered by the thousands, they confessed and forsook their sins and pleaded for God’s mercy. Samuel offered a sacrifice on their behalf and prayed to God for them (1 Samuel 7:2-6).
But the Philistines, perhaps sensing this gathering was a mustering of troops, marched their army out to Mizpah to defeat them again. But this time things went differently. Knowing the Philistines were no problem for God – He had just finished devastating their land, the people continued seeking the LORD and asked Samuel to pray for their deliverance. And without any Israelite drawing his sword, God “thundered against the Philistines.” The Philistines became confused and began killing each other. They were routed by God and never bothered Israel again as long as Samuel led them (1 Samuel 7:7-13).
When Israel tried to fight its enemies without giving God a thought, they were beat up badly. Then, after their defeat, when they tried to “bring God into their battle” without getting their hearts right with Him, they were slaughtered. But when they turned away from their sins and turned to God wholeheartedly, God did their fighting for them. In fact, during Samuel’s reign as judge, the hand of the LORD continually fought for them against Philistia.
What a contrast to King Saul who followed Samuel. Saul gave God little thought. As a result, he had to wage war against the Philistines all his reign, losing in the end.
Presented before us are three ways to face our troubles and to fight our battles. The successful way was summed up by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. “Seek God’s reign in your life and to be right with Him, and God will take care of everything else you need” (Matthew 6:33).
PRAYER: Dear Father in heaven, please train my heart for spiritual battle. Help me to realize that though I am no match for my enemies, as I place my life in Your hands and seek to do Your will, You will fight my battles for me. Help me to always seek Your reign in my life and a right relationship with You, so that You will supply all I need. Amen.