Tom is a typical American. He goes to work each morning and fights the rush hour traffic. He spends time with his girlfriend hanging out with friends at Starbucks after work. He goes to church on Sunday morning and even goes to a home Bible study on Thursday night. Tom is a simple man, not wanting a whole lot, but enjoying the good gifts that the Lord has brought his way. Tom grew up in a comfortable middle class home. He’s not from a military family, never served our nation in any military way, and disconnected from the wars and rumors of wars that circle the globe each day.
During the past year Tom has become more interested in the things he has been seeing on television and hearing over the radio. It seems like everywhere he turns there is more and more talk about war, Saddam Hussein, and the possibility of lives being lost. Tom is a peace-loving man. He has no desire for his neighbor’s sons and daughters to have to face the possibility of dying on a battlefield. He can’t understand why all of the turmoil and strife can’t be talked through and worked out. He feels that as long as Saddam stays on the other side of the planet then it really doesn’t affect us.
While Tom holds these beliefs he continues to go to church and study his Bible, he continues to listen to the President talk about “time running out” on Saddam, and he feels like America has reached a point of no return – war is inevitable. So what is Tom to do? Why Tom tunes in to CNN and MSNBC of course. He continues to listen to folks talk about why we should go to war and why we should leave well enough alone. Tom is convinced that America is making a big mistake, but he has reached his conclusion based upon what he has heard coming into his home from the talking heads on the television alone.
Why is it that at a time like this those who claim to be Christians, who attend church on Sunday, and profess to live their lives according to God’s Word draw their conclusions from every corner of the country yet never consult the Scriptures? God’s Word has example after example of how nations have gone to war in the past, why nations have gone to war in the past, and the role that God played in their engaging enemy and experiencing the agony of defeat or the glories of victory.
God’s Word is not just an interesting book that we should read if we have the time. God’s Word is not ancient wisdom for ancient men and women. I believe that God’s Word is more relevant for our situation than anything you can hear read or hear. From studying God’s Word for the past several weeks, I am convinced that the Body of Christ is called upon in times like these to consult God’s Word and cry out to God in prayer on the behalf of our leaders and nation.
Last week we took a look at 2 Chronicles 20:1-19. We spent time examining the steps that King Jehoshaphat took when the nation of Judah came under attack. If you will remember for a moment, Jehoshaphat didn’t run to the war room and gather his generals, he didn’t send out pollsters to try and gather a consensus of the people, and he didn’t consult with his allies. King Jehoshaphat called the people of Judah together to inquire of the Lord as to what he should do. Even with the enemy on his doorstep and the urgency of the moment at hand, King Jehoshaphat knew that more than anything else he needed the counsel of Almighty God.
I have no doubt that what America needs at this moment is the counsel of Almighty God. There is no way for any of us to know what is happening in our President’s heart, but we don’t need to know. There is no way for any of us to know what Saddam Hussein has planned. What we can know is this: How are we to respond to the situation at hand in our nation? Are we to join in the chorus of cheers or jeers for the upcoming war? Are we to spend our time listening to the evening news instead of spending quiet times of prayer listening for the voice of the Lord? Are we to analyze the proposed plans of our leaders instead of calling on the Lord to speak to their hearts about His plan for our nation? Are we to read and watch everything we can get our hands on about Iraq, Saddam Hussein, President Bush, and other world leaders instead of digging deep into God’s Word to find direction?
I believe with all of my heart that the Lord is calling the Body of Christ in America to come together for the purpose of prayer. We need to come together to pray with the urgency and fervor of King Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah.
Last week, when we looked at the story of Judah and King Jehoshaphat coming under the threat of attack I told you that God didn’t grant Judah the victory simply because they were His people. There is ample evidence in God’s Word that victory only came to God’s people when they sought His will concerning the affairs of the nation and then followed God’s plan to the letter. Anytime that God’s people refused to seek Him with all of their hearts, trusted in their own power or the power of the nations around them, then God taught them a lesson in humility. This morning I want to focus on a story from the book of Joshua that vividly illustrates this point. I also want to show you another clip from the life of King Jehoshaphat before we leave here that illustrates how important it is to listen for God’s marching orders. First, let’s turn to Joshua 7 and learn from those who have gone before us.
I want to set the scene for you while you turn to our Scripture for this morning. Joshua has been promoted to a four star General after the death of Moses. After receiving instructions from the Lord, Joshua led the troops to a great victory in the battle of Jericho. Joshua, like a neophyte commander who wanted to make a good first impression, listened to the detailed instructions of God as to how He wanted them to capture the city. Joshua followed every detail, in detail, and the battle was won. All of Israel knew that it was the Lord who had secured the victory for Joshua and the troops.
Even though the victory had been won and Joshua thought that every detail had been followed, there was one detail that was overlooked. God had instructed Joshua that his people were not to take anything belonging to the enemy – all of the silver, gold, bronze, and iron items were to be devoted to the Lord’s treasury because He was the one handing the enemy over to His people. (Joshua 6:19) Achan, caught up in the euphoria of victory, kept some of the spoils of war and angered the Lord.
God was angry about the disobedience of His people, but Joshua didn’t know that because he was too busy planning the next attack, sending out his spies, and planning for a victory celebration. When we come to our Scripture for this morning we see that Joshua and his troops are getting ready to go to battle again. Only this time there is no indication that Joshua inquired of the Lord, no word that Joshua sought the battle plan of God, and no word that the Lord sent them to seize the city. Let’s read our Scripture and then we will take a closer look.
1 But the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the LORD’S anger burned against Israel. 2 Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, “Go up and spy out the region.” So the men went up and spied out Ai. 3 When they returned to Joshua, they said, “Not all the people will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary all the people, for only a few men are there.” 4 So about three thousand men went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, 5 who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted and became like water. 6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the LORD, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, “Ah, Sovereign LORD, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! 8 O Lord, what can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? 9 The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?” (Joshua 7:1-9 NIV)
If you will study this Scripture closely then you can see that Joshua followed the same procedures that he did before the battle of Jericho. He sent out spies to evaluate the enemy’s army. In Joshua 7 we read,
3 When they returned to Joshua, they said, “Not all the people will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary all the people, for only a few men are there.” (Joshua 7:3 NIV)
Joshua’s army was much larger than what was needed to defeat the little army of Ai, according to the spies. Joshua, feeling confident of the spies’ report, sent the 3,000 men that were needed to send the inhabitants of Ai running for the hills. The only problem is that the men came running back to camp even more quickly than they ran to the battle. Take a look at Joshua 7:4-5 with me.
4 So about three thousand men went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, 5 who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted and became like water.
The fighting men of Israel got sent home with their tail between their legs, their pride tarnished, and no clue as to what had happened to them. What had happened? How do you explain such a mighty army being totally humiliated by such a small, rag tag army? There is an easy answer. Joshua had forgotten the first step in determining whether or not he was to engage the enemy – he had forgotten to go to God.
Joshua had experienced victory in the past so he simply followed the first step that he had taken before the battle of Jericho. Joshua had sent out spies before the battle of Jericho. Turn back to Joshua 2:1 with me and see what I am talking about.
1Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there. (Joshua 2:1 NIV)
The men listened to Rahab who told them that the people of Jericho feared the children of Israel because they had heard that God was with them. That was all the information the spies needed. They left the city and headed back to give their report to Joshua and the report inspired everyone. In Joshua 2:23-24 we can read their report.
23Then the two men started back. They went down out of the hills, forded the river and came to Joshua son of Nun and told him everything that had happened to them. 24They said to Joshua, “The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.” (Joshua 2:23-24 NIV)
Sending spies to check out the enemy was not a new battle plan. Joshua had been sent out with Caleb and ten other spies by Moses to spy out the Promised Land. Joshua had been part of the process in the past, now he was the one sending out spies and it had proven to be an effective reconnaissance tool.
The only problem is that Joshua had forgotten that the key was not the information that could be gathered or the size of Israel’s army compared to the army of the enemy. The determining factor in Israel’s victories was attention given to the orders of the Commander in Chief – Almighty God.
Joshua was overconfident, he was resting on the proven methods of the past, and this time, as the army went to overthrow Ai, the Israelites were routed. Thirty-six of the Israelite soldiers were killed and 2964 soldiers were humiliated as they ran back to camp. Joshua couldn’t believe his eyes! The soldiers couldn’t believe what had just happened. Everyone was shocked! Joshua ran to God when he learned of the defeat and this is what happened. Take a look at verses 6-9.
6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the LORD, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, “Ah, Sovereign LORD, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! 8 O Lord, what can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? 9 The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?”
Joshua went to God. After the defeat he went to God. After the humiliation he went to God. After the unnecessary loss of lives Joshua went to God. Joshua went to God after his plan had failed, but he could have gone to God before he ever sent the spies. If Joshua had sought the Lord first then he would have learned that there were some important “house cleaning” matters that needed to be taken care of before he went to war.
What can we learn from this? I think there are some important lessons for us and I would like to share a few with you.
First, pride goes before the fall. Joshua and his troops were fresh off a great victory and they forgot who had given them the victory. It is easy to become prideful or complacent when we have tasted the sweetness of victory isn’t it?
Just because America and her allies were successful the last time we waged war in the sand doesn’t mean that America needs to be overconfident that this war will be a walk in the park. I have heard many commentators on television and on the radio say, “Nobody in their right mind believes that America has a chance of losing this war.” That is a logical conclusion based upon the last time we squared off with Saddam Hussein. The Gulf War was no war at all. It was a thorough whipping of the enemy.
Before the Gulf War many Americans were nervous. We had heard stories about chemical and biological weapons, we didn’t know how powerful Iraq really was, and we were prepared for an all out war. It never materialized. With what happened last time it is easy for many folks to now conclude that this will be the same song second verse.
I believe that if God is calling President Bush to lead us into this war that victory is certain – God’s plans do not fail! On the other hand, if God is not leading us to engage the enemy at this time then we have biblical history to show us that victory is unobtainable. This is why it is so important for us to pray that our President will hear clearly from the Lord.
Second, “God’s people” are not assured of the victory. At a time like this people begin to pull out the old phrase, “America is a Christian nation.” We think to ourselves that God must be on the side of a nation that worships Him. I want to urge you to refuse to join that choir of voices that assembles every time a tragedy or war comes about. Labeling America a “Christian” nation has absolutely nothing to do with securing a victory. You might as well buy a rabbit’s foot and place your trust in its good luck. Victory is secured only through obedience. When God says, “Go!” then it is time to go. When God says, “Don’t go!” then you had better stay put.
Our trust in God’s Sovereign hand is our security. Let me share with you an example of what I am talking about. In 701 B.C. King Hezekiah of Judah was being threatened by the Assyrian King Sennacherib. King Hezekiah was tempted to forge an alliance with Egypt to strengthen his nation. His own advisers were urging him to form the alliance, but the prophet Isaiah warned him with these words.
1 “Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the LORD, “to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin; 2 who go down to Egypt without consulting me; who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection, to Egypt’s shade for refuge. 3 But Pharaoh’s protection will be to your shame, Egypt’s shade will bring you disgrace. (Isaiah 30:1-3 NIV)
If King Hezekiah would have gone ahead and forged the alliance then you can be assured that Jerusalem would have suffered from their disobedience. It didn’t matter that Jerusalem is the “holy city.” It mattered that God’s people obeyed God.
For the past month or so there has been more and more talk about how a growing number of our allies are not for this war. Because Germany and France, Russia and China, and others are not for the war then we must stay out of Saddam’s business. That is absurd.
You will never find in Scripture that Israel went to war because her allies were for the war. As a matter of fact, God counseled Israel to forget about all other alliances other than an alliance with His mighty power. Israel was to trust in God and God alone. They were to take their orders from the Lord and not from surrounding nations.
Last of all, we must “inquire of the Lord” before every battle. There are people who live in America who believe that there is nothing worth fighting for. No war is a just war. It is as if the freedom that we enjoy as Americans is something that we have come to take for granted. We have lost our history of how you and I have come to enjoy this freedom that is so precious. Countless lives have been lost on the field of battle in order that future generations could be free. With all of this history there are still many who oppose any war.
I am no authority on war, but I can tell you from studying God’s Word that this line of thinking is totally out of line with God’s Word. Over and over again you see that God called His people to go to war when it was necessary.
The key for us as a country is that our leaders need to “inquire” of the Lord. What is God’s will for the United States? Is God calling us to step in and put a stop to Saddam Hussein? Is God calling us to stay put at this time? I do not know. There is only one way to know what God is calling our nation to do at this important time in our nation’s history and that is to seek God’s will with all of our heart.
Last week we studied King Jehoshaphat and how he called the people of Judah together to pray. There was another time when Jehoshaphat was called to go to battle and we can see from studying 1 Kings 22 that Jehoshaphat knew the steps to take before you go to war. King Ahab was King over Israel while Jehoshaphat was King over Judah. Jehoshaphat went to visit with King Ahab one day and Ahab asked Jehoshaphat.
4 So he asked Jehoshaphat, “Will you go with me to fight against Ramoth Gilead?” Jehoshaphat replied to the king of Israel, “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.” 5 But Jehoshaphat also said to the king of Israel, “First seek the counsel of the LORD.” (1 Kings 22:4-5 NIV)
Ahab knew that he needed King Jehoshaphat’s support to go to war. He was convinced that they could win the war, but King Jehoshaphat needed to know something more than a mere assessment of the armies ability to win – He needed to know if it was God’s will.
We need the wisdom of King Jehoshaphat today, not the might of King Ahab. We can see from God’s Word and from stories throughout history that God is Sovereign over the affairs of people. He raises up nations and He brings them down. He puts leaders in place and He removes them in His time.
Such was the case in the Philippines in 1986. It wasn’t an enemy that was attacking from the outside, but an enemy within who was oppressing, assassinating, and threatening the people. Ferdinand Marcos was, for more than twenty years, one of the world’s most powerful dictators. He was elected President of the Philippines in 1965. Marcos manipulated public opinion, stole elections, and lined his own pockets while the people of the Philippines suffered. Anyone who opposed Marcos was arrested or assassinated.
Although the law of the Philippines said that the President could only serve two four-year terms, Marcos ruled for twenty years. Marcos was able to accomplish this by suspending the constitution and then writing another constitution more conducive to his own ambitions.
Then in 1983 Benigno Aquino decided to return to the Philippines after three years of self-imposed exile. As a popular politician of the people, Aquino represented the primary threat to the Marcos presidency. Marcos assigned a military escort for Aquino when he arrived back in the Philippines, supposedly for his “protection.” As Benigno Aquino got off the plane he was shot and killed. The shot fired by Marcos’ hit men was the shot that ignited a firestorm of revolt by the people of the Philippines.
Thousands of people came out for Benigno Aquino’s funeral that was banned from television by the Marcos regime. Those who came for the funeral ended up marching through the streets of the Philippines for eleven hours demonstrating against Marcos. The demonstrations continued as resistance sprang up in cities and towns all over the Philippines. During the next two and a half years all segments of the population, including the upper and middle classes, joined the struggle to get rid of Marcos. Finally, yielding to pressure from his people and the U.S., Marcos called for presidential elections to prove he still had widespread support.
Cardinal Jaime Sin of the Catholic Church is a much-respected leader and humble man of God in the Philippines today. When he heard that elections were to be held Cardinal Sin contacted Benigno Aquino’s widow, Cory, a self-described housewife, and told her that God was calling her to lead the Philippino people. After spending time thinking about Cardinal Sin’s words, Cory decided to run against Marcos. When the elections took place Ferdinand Marcos had rigged the election, had his people threaten election workers, and stuffed ballot boxes. As a result of Marcos’ tactics – Ferdinand Marcos was declared the winner.
After the election Cory Aquino spoke to a crowd of one million people at a rally in Manila with Cardinal Sin at her side. She proposed a seven-part program of nonviolent resistance, including a one-day work stoppage and a boycott of Marcos-controlled banks, stores and newspapers. She urged people to “experiment with nonviolent forms of protest” and declared: “…if Goliath refuses to yield, we shall keep dipping into our arsenal of nonviolence and escalate our nonviolent struggle.” The revolution had begun.
On February 22, 1986, Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Deputy Chief of Staff Fidel Ramos defect from the Marcos government. Enrile and Ramos barricade themselves in the Defense Ministry headquarters in Manila, along with a small group of sympathetic troops. They said they were prepared to die rather than continue supporting the corrupt Marcos regime. Marcos was determined to go to Enrile and Ramos and take them from the headquarters, but Cardinal Sin utilized an independent radio station to call the people to action.
The Church responded and the people surrounded the Defense Ministry and blocked the movement of any troops that Marcos was sending. Hundreds of thousands of people left their homes armed with sandwiches, flowers, and prayer. For the next four days, entire families camp out on the streets of Manila, using their bodies to protect the rebel troops from attack. The people sang and danced and led cheers. They talked and prayed and slept and listened to Cardinal Sin on Radio Veritas. There were priests who held mass and prayer vigils on the streets. There were spontaneous rallies and processions.
When Marcos’ soldiers and tanks came they were met by tens of thousands of ordinary Filipinos who were surrounding Camp Crame to protect the rebel officers. As the tanks started forward into the crowd, people sat down in front of them. Other people approached the tanks with gifts and food for the soldiers. Young girls walked among the soldiers, passing out flowers. A Marine commander threatened to start shooting, but priests and nuns knelt before the tanks and prayed the Rosary. Not one shot was fired. Finally the tanks turned around and withdrew as the crowd cheers.
On February 24 Marcos imposes a dusk to dawn curfew, but no one paid any attention. The people continued to do what they had been instructed by Cardinal Sin and Corazon Aquino to do – they prayed and offered the soldiers food and gifts.
On February 25th at about nine o’clock that night, Marcos and his family slipped out the back door of Malaca–ang Palace and took a boat across the Pasig River where helicopters were waiting. At Clark Air base they boarded a U.S. Air Force plane headed for Guam. Marcos, who ruled for twenty years as one of the world’s most powerful dictators, was now just a sick old man fleeing his country like a frightened dog.
God’s people followed God’s plan and victory was secured. Is the plan that was followed by the Philippino people the plan that God always calls us to follow? Absolutely not. This is why it is important for God’s people to seek God’s counsel in each and every situation that we face. This is not just true for nation’s plans for war. You and I need to seek the Lord’s counsel for every situation we face in life. God has a plan for your life and mine. His desire is that we come to know His Son, Jesus, as our Lord, Savior, and only Hope in life. Won’t you invite Him into your heart today?