That was my son Ariksander's succinct, straightforward summary of what happens to those who rely upon chariots and horsemen. "They all die." Israel should have remembered that when the people asked for a king like all the nations around them. They should have remembered what the Lord their God, their true King, had done to Pharaoh with all his chariots and horsemen. "The horse and its rider, He has drowned in the depths of the sea." The battle belongs to the Lord, not to military might or technological advantage.
But no, when Samuel warned the people that a king would draft their sons into the military, to drive his chariots and run before them and to serve among his horsemen, the people craved precisely that. They wanted such a king, who would go out before them and fight their battles with impressive military prowess. They wanted to become like all the nations; despite the fact that Pharaoh and the Philistines and every other militarily superior nation in between had been swept away by the hand of the Lord, whenever Israel proceeded according to His Word.
What are the "chariots and horsemen" that we in our own day crave, in order to become like all the nations around us? What advantage do we suppose that we must have in order to prevail, apart from and other than the Word of the Lord? Shall the Israel of God, His holy Church, make disciples of all the nations by mimicking those nations and establishing kingdoms after their own kind? Or should we not rather be strong and courageous in the Word and promise of Christ, His own Anointed, who accomplishes His purposes, not by might, not by power, but by His Spirit?
It was not a horsemen but One who rode upon the foal of a donkey, and not a chariot of iron but a Cross of wood, that prevailed over all our enemies and won the decisive battle to end all battles.
The Lord gave the people of Israel the sort of king they asked for, but Saul was not a man after God's own heart. The kingdom and the future did not rest with him, but with a most unlikely other. David was a scrappy fighter, too, and he killed his ten-thousands to Saul's thousands, but he was always at his best when he proceeded in faith. Significantly, his first and most famous fight was won, not with Saul's manly armor or weaponry, but with the pastoral tools of his trade. He went out to meet Goliath "in the Name of Yahweh Sabaoth, the God of the armies of Israel," and He who had tamed the lion and the bear would again preserve the shepherd against the uncircumcised Philistine, as well.
Great David's greater Son has come, defeated all our enemies round about, and established His Kingdom of peace and rest for the sheep of His pasture. He calls and sends men after His own heart to shepherd His Israel, not with weapons of war, not with chariots and horses, but with the humble means of the pastoral office. Let us not be humbled or intimidated by the Pharaohs and Philistines of the world. They all die. But in the humility of repentance, let us go out with courage in the confidence of Christ, who by His death has conquered death forever.
Old Lutheran Quote of the Day
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