When Joab saw that the battle was set against him both in front and in the rear, he chose some of the best men of Israel and arrayed them against the Syrians. The rest of his men he put in the charge of Abishai his brother, and he arrayed them against the Ammonites. And he said, “If the Syrians are too strong for me, then you shall help me, but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come and help you.
– 2 Samuel 10:9-11
Only a fool goes to fight an army alone, yet here stand we Christians on the battlefield, fighting against that which wages war against our souls (1 Peter 2:11), often standing on our hilltops surrounded by enemies who we intend to beat back by our strength alone. Little wonder that we fail so often! Here Joab, the seasoned commander of David’s armies, a man who has won battle after battle after battle and who by all means should be confident in his ability to conquer, class upon his brother to assist him. Even after defeating numerous enemies in battles where the odds were completely against him, Joab does not assume that he is able to win alone, so he invites Abishai to help. Oh, that we would have the wisdom and humility to do so when the enemy bounds us on all sides!
The point of this passage is simple; when the enemy is too great for you, ask your brother to assist you in the battle. However, there are three other observations that I shall make which may greatly assist us day to day.
1. Joab recognized the situation and acknowledged his need.
Firstly, Joab recognized the direness of the situation. Most often it is this first step is the one that we miss and are defeated by. How can we prepare if we do not know there is to be a battle? And how can we prepare adequately if we do not know the strength of the enemy? “Joab saw that the battle was set against him both in front and in the rear.” He scanned his surroundings and attended to the position and number of the enemy, a thing that we often fail to do. Joab was not busy in his tent preparing a meal or resting, nor was he drinking or being entertained with his comrades. No, he was alert on the battlefield, keeping watch for the attack that he knew would come.
Brothers and sisters, we need to learn this lesson! We are surrounded by a culture that cries “Eat, drink, be merry! There is no war and no worries!” Even among the church there are those who do as Jeremiah complains of in Jeremiah 8:11, saying “‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” And indeed, there is no peace. The devil prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour those who are asleep or too drunk to fight. But you, men and women of the Lord, are called to remain alert and ready for the battle; to prepare your minds for action and be sober-minded, and to be on guard against the enemy. (1 Peter 5:8)
I urge you, do so! Cast off those things which entangle you, whatever it may be. Perhaps it is video games that lull you into spiritual slumber (they certainly do so for me), or perhaps it is literal alcohol that bereaves you of your sobriety. For some relationships are the enemy’s tool to distract from the true battle, for others it may be success in the workplace, and for still others it may be music. There are a myriad of things in this world which will distract us from the enemy’s strategies. Be like Joab and remain alert, watching for the enemies attack and ready to counter it.
Secondly, Joab made his need known to his brother. It does a man no good to remain sober and alert and see the enemy’s ploy if he does not react to it. I have noticed in myself a deadly mix of foolish passiveness and pride that expects others to see my plight and come to my assistance. Not so with Joab! See how readily he invites his brother Abishai to take charge of part of the army and help in the defense, thereby foiling the Ammonites and Syrians. Do not think yourself any better than this great general of Israel’s armies. When you have noted that the enemy may be more than you are able to handle alone, go to your brother and ask for his assistance. They will gladly give it.
Note also how it was his brother from whom he requested help, not merely some common soldier. He chose a man whom he had grown with and who he could trust to hold his own, a man that he knew would not cower beneath the enemy’s attack or be too quick to enter the battle. As Christians, we each need people like this in our lives; people who we can trust and are able to depend on. But in order to have relationships like that, we must open ourselves to spending time with brothers and sisters, making a conscious decision and perhaps even mutual agreement to be there for each other, particularly in a culture that is drawing us more and more into individualism and seclusion. Do not be too proud to ask for help, and don’t be too proud to open yourself to others. It is only together that we are stronger.
2. A plan was made before the battle and was expressed clearly to the others.
Being aware of the strength and strategy of the enemy and bringing others to help in the battle are excellent things, but they will be of little benefit if a clear plan is not laid out. Joab makes the strategy clear to Abishai when he says “If the Syrians are too strong for me, then you shall help me, but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come and help you.” It doesn’t have to be an intricate strategy of attacks and feigned retreats, but the plan must be clear. Are there times that you are particularly tempted? Set out a plan with the brother or sister who has agreed to help you in the battle and stand by it. Perhaps as simple as “Text me on Saturday morning to remind me to stay strong,” or, “I’ll let you know when him and I are going to be together,” or, “I’m going to fast from movies, tv, and video games this week. Will you check on me on Tuesday and Friday to encourage me to stick with it?”
The clearer the plan is to all parties involved, the easier it will be to hold to. Don’t allow yourself to be deceived by vague statements like “I’ll get in touch occasionally to see how you are doing.” Instead, set dates and times to do so. And do so well before the battle, not as the battle happens. It is sheer idiocy to wait until an attack to prepare. (And you don’t want to be an idiot.)
Also, note how it is Joab, the one against whom the attack is taking place, who makes the plan. He doesn’t come to his brother Abishai and say “Well brother, I’ve got a battle coming up, will you make a strategy for me?” Instead, he takes responsibility for his own battle, bearing the burden of preparing and planning. The same should be true for us in our temptations and struggles. Not that our brothers and sisters should not help us, but we must not rely on them to carry us out of our sin. Far from it! We are to be helping them even as they help us, as we will see in the next point.
3. The guarding was mutual, not one way.
Thirdly and finally, the strategy that Joab and Abishai use helps both of them. If the Syrians begin to overwhelm Joab, then Abishai and his forces are to come and help. If Abishai is being conquered by the Ammonites, then Joab and his forces will come to their assistance. And so it should be for us in our day to day lives. We are not to be parasites, only absorbing the service and help of others. Instead, we are called to “mutually encourage” each other in the faith (Romans 1:12) and to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).
How beautiful of a thing it is to see a group of people working together towards one goal! And it is to exactly that which we are called as brothers and sisters in Christ. Make a point of finding one or two people with whom you will band together, spurring each other on in love and good deeds and helping to keep each to live righteous and holy lives. Let it be a thing that is mutual, each person assisting where the other is weak, for that is what we have been called to do.
I leave you with this challenge, my friends; be like Joab and stay alert to the enemy, prepare and seek the help of others in the faith, make clear plans, and assist each other in the battle. There is much war around and within us, but praise be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ that we are able to take heart, for He has overcome the world! Go, and live together in that glorious truth.