Every day we’re confronted with insurmountable odds when we follow Christ; the impossibility of overcoming sin, of having Gospel conversations with non-believing co-workers, of holding a struggling family together, of standing firm against the cultural tide. We wake up and go to war. We sleep, enter chaotic dreams and wake to war again.
God’s people have always been at battle, even back to the foundation of Israel, God’s first people. As a result, Deuteronomy 20:1-4 is still a much-needed reminder for the war weary soldier-saint.
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. And when you draw near to the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people 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, for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.’
– Deuteronomy 20:1-4, ESV
I want to draw three truths from this text that will strengthen us for our work today. If you’re a follower of Jesus and you don’t feel like you’re on the front lines of the battlefield it may be time to do some inspection of your life. Let these three truths give you a taste of what it’s like to be in the midst of God’s mighty works that happen at the edges of his Kingdom. If you’re already there, in the trenches sweating under the pressure of spiritual and physical opposition, I pray that these truths will refill your faith in our Savior’s infinite strength.
We will face enemies greater than us.
The saying that “God will never give you anything you can’t handle” has no biblical basis. God always brings his people into impossible situations where he can flaunt his power. He consistently placed the Israelites in places where they were face-to-face with powers that would, in the natural, utterly overwhelm them. They escape Egypt as a mass of men, women, children, and animals with no hope of opposing the Egyptian army, and God wins. They face Jericho’s massive walls and trained warriors with trumpets and marching formations, and God wins. Jesus left 11 Apostles and a small band of believers with the task of evangelizing the entire world, and God is winning. The entirety of scripture, from creation to Revelation’s close, is story after story of God flaunting his power by choosing the weak to shame the strong.
It’s when we are facing impossible opposition that God’s power is greatest in our midst. (2 Cor. 12:9-10) When the enemies around (or within) us are greater than us we need to call to mind the sovereignty of our King and remind each other that he is in control. Remember, the Lord our God who brought us up from the Egypt of our deadness and slavery to sin is still with us. The Lord our God who raised Christ from the dead and seated him over all rule and authority, both in this age and in the age to come, is at work in us. When we are surrounded and look to the world like we’re about to be defeated, we laugh with our King (Psalm 2:4), knowing that victory is at hand.
We are commanded to not be afraid.
According to this passage God commands our emotions, not just our actions. He declares, “you shall not be afraid, for the Lord your God is with you”. Fear flows from unbelief, and we need to fight our unbelief with the truth that feeds faith. When our enemies surround us and we feel them overwhelming us, we reach out in faith to truths like, “the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.’
From where we stand today after Christ’s incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, we have all the more reason to have no fear. God has already fought on our behalf in Christ and given us the victory. If we are in Christ, every one of our enemies has been defeated. Even death, the last and greatest enemy, has been transformed from a terrible demon to the doorman who opens the way into glory. Fear isn’t something that should even be on our radar when God’s mighty right arm is at work for us.
It’s almost impossible to talk yourself out of being afraid when the fear has started. Note that in this text it’s the priest’s job to remind the people of the truth that God is fighting for them as they come near the battle. When God’s people started moving close to a situation where fear might be a problem, the priest was to recall to them the truths that would be their tools to combat that fear.
The new Testament makes it clear that every believer is now a priest (1 Peter 2:9) We have a responsibility to “Gospel” each other with the truth that God is great and he is with us on a day-to-day basis. When we see fear rising up in our brothers and sisters in Christ we are to come forward and speak to them, reminding them, “Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies.”
God fights for us.
Bathe yourself in this truth until it becomes a part of the very fiber of your being. God fights for you. He fought for the Israelites in their day. He purchased every ounce of victory when he fought and conquered for us in Christ, and he still works on our behalf today, so much so that the Apostle Paul could write in Romans 8, “for those who love God all things work together for good…If God is for us, who can be against us?…in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us and gave himself for us.” Get that? Everything is for your good. In everything God wins, and you with him.
Whether you are confronting years of entrenched sin and addiction, hard-hearted opposition to Christ from a friend you love, insults and oppression from co-workers, overwhelming loneliness, or bankruptcy, “the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.”
Believe it. Build your life on it. Remind others of it. And, most importantly, worship our God for it.