Mrs. Meyer is a wife and mother in Hope Protestant Reformed Church of Walker, Michigan.
Do we have to be taught to war? Do we have to teach our children to war? Isn’t there enough war? Talking of war seems so negative. Why not teach peace? Doesn’t that sound much better?
Yes, we can talk of peace, and even prosperity. But let it be real peace and real prosperity. Let us sing with joy and gladness the lines of Psalter #393, the versification of Psalm 144:
O happy land, whose sons in youth, in sturdy strength and noble truth, like plants in vigor spring;
Whose daughters fair, a queenly race, are like the cornerstones that grace the palace of a king, the palace of a king.
O happy land, when flock and field their rich, abundant increase yield, and blessings multiply….
What happiness abounds, what spiritual peace and prosperity, to see our children in grace and truth! “Yea, happy is that people, whose God is the Lord.” This is the conclusion of Psalm 144, an exultant strain of peace and joy, glorying in the most that any people could possess.
The question is, how does this conclusion come to be true? Does it just happen? Let us look at the rest of the Psalm for the answer. We find then that, no, it doesn’t just happen, there is a way that brings it about, and the way is set forth very clearly already in verse one. The way is very striking. The way is war.
“Blessed be the Lord my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight” (Ps. 144:1).
This isn’t physical war. And physical peace isn’t the goal. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12). Yes, we have to talk of war. Spiritual war. It is, in fact, the only way in which genuine peace—spiritual peace—will abide inside our doors.
This is not a popular message. Apostate, contemporary Christianity propounds a purely positive, always smilingly happy, physically healthy, and prosperous life. An earthly victory is the goal. Guilt, struggle, fighting with one’s sin and other spiritual foes—these are all disdained. That is not living “victoriously.” If there is a battle, it is a battle against intolerance and absolute truth. (Read “All Around Us,” SB, April 15, 2001, for just one example.)
But this is not Scripture. Nor is it reality. The Christian life is one of spiritual warfare from the cradle to the grave. All of history is itself the story of this conflict from Paradise to the present. God Himself established this war when He declared to the enemy in the garden of Eden: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). Not only was the war established, so was the Victor! Read what Rev. H. Hoeksema wrote about this “mother of all promises” in a pamphlet entitled “The Gospel”:
But God had provided some better thing for His people, a better thing that could not otherwise be realized than through this night of sin and death. For, He put enmity between man and the seed of the serpent. He realized His everlasting Covenant…. Henceforth, the children of the promise would have to walk in the night. But in that night they walked in the light of the promise…. In the light of that promise and in the strength of that hope which is the substance of all their life, they struggled and fought the battle, they condemned the world, they confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims in the earth and were looking for the city that hath foundations whose builder and maker is God.
This war serves His purposes as it serves His victory. If we want to talk about victory, this is real victory—spiritual victory—and the only way to that victory.
The enemy has his purposes too. Satan would have us lay down our arms, deceiving us into thinking that there is no war. All is peace. Let us have only peace. Strive for peace, both in the church and in the world. Doesn’t that sound nice? Churches united? Nations united? How wonderful. And it’s happening. This is the message of Antichrist, and it is well established, even at our doors. To be tolerant of every doctrine and evil under the sun is to live in this “peace.”
Yet, for all of Satan’s and his cohorts’ talk of peace and tolerance, there is none. They accomplish unification, that is true. But that is not peace. And their tolerance abruptly stops at the absolute, righteous truth of Scripture. Rather, there is a uniting of the false church and the world against God and His anointed ones. Satan is busy deceiving the world into thinking it is peace and harmony they are after, when really their unity merely becomes a tool, a very willing tool, in his hands to try to destroy Christ and His Body.* For all his persuasion concerning peace, Satan is well aware of the war.
And so ought we to be.
To be oblivious to and ignore the forces of darkness around us is to give that darkness the advantage. We are working. We are playing. We are busy, busy, busy. But stop and take time to study Scripture? Read works of sound doctrine? Be concerned about maintaining and growing in our understanding of the Reformed truth? We’re much too busy for that! … and darkness gains the hour.
But the war is real. When Israel had, for the most part, procured the land of Canaan, God purposefully left enemies around them in order “to teach them to war” (Jud. 3:2). This is certainly for our instruction as well. The book of Judges gives us a clear and chilling picture of what our lives really consist of on this earth. We battle the world around us, the world just outside our borders, and the world that tries to inch its way within. For us, worldliness and Philistia are one and the same. The antithesis looms large upon our path. And every parent knows what battle lies in store for him as he attempts to fight the influence of the world’s philosophy, amusements, and adornments with regard to his children. “Everyone does it.” “We just want to have a little fun.” “This is the style now.” It is tempting to let it pass. After all, is it really that serious? Is it really worth the battle that will ensue in our families over it? Israel was sometimes tempted to ignore the battle, too. Recall Samson’s lone effort in the conflict, unsupported by his own countrymen who ought to have rallied behind his leadership. Let us beware. Let us train our senses to the never-ending encroachment of the world and her allurements. Babylon can only be more enticing and deceptive as we approach the Last Day.
But as severe as Israel’s battles were with the Philistines and surrounding Canaanites, the fiercest battles did not compare to Israel’s fight with her closest enemy—the enemy within herself. We find the account in Judges 19-20, and it is a tragic history to read. The casualties were staggering. The tribe of Benjamin had asserted itself, and its tenacious grab for vindication of sin and power went beyond all sanity and logic. Scripture instructs us in many places that our worst persecutors will be those within the instituted church: “my own familiar friend” (Ps. 41:9). “For so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matt. 5:12). “Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death” (Matt. 26:59). And that final False Prophet, who “deceiveth them that dwell on the earth…,” shall have power to “cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed” (Rev. 13:14, 15). Persecution from within our own borders will hurt more than persecution from without. Let it not come as a surprise then. We have been warned. Let us beware.
But this is not the end of it. There is something even more awful. There is a treacherous and insidious accomplice of Satan from whom we cannot hide. So close is this foe to us that until our last breath is drawn, we can never be free from his vicious, strangling grasp. He is a piranha-like parasite whose leeching, if left unchecked, will leave us spiritually anemic, weak, and fatally sick. The trouble is, this leech is not a separate entity within ourselves. It cannot, by a simple operation, be plucked off and removed. Why not? This is the awful part: because it is I. It is my old man of sin. True, it is no longer the most basic part of me. And, in fact, this old man is defeated and doomed. He’s as good as dead—just like my earthly flesh is as good as dust. But just as this earthly body must die in order to be changed into theheavenly (unless Christ returns first), complete removal of the old man requires physical death as well. The combat doesn’t get any closer than this.
And not one of us is exempt from this horrible conflict within our souls. Even Israel was aware that her real battle wasn’t so much against the Philistines around her, as it was against her own sin. Over and over in the book of Judges we read: “And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord….” Again, and again, and again. Israel’s physical battles had everything to do with her sin: “That through them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the Lord … or not. Therefore the Lord left those nations…” (Jud. 2:22, 23). Let us beware. Let us be warned. Israel gained the victory, even over the tribe of Benjamin, but it was not without a most gruesome and terrible slaughter. There is instruction there.
The Lord teaches our hands to war and our fingers to fight. If He, as our Father, teaches us these things, then it follows that we must teach our children these things, too.
We have considered a brief overview of the spiritual war we are engaged in and the spiritual enemies we encounter. Let us be fully aware of this militant state in which our Lord has placed us, and let us teach our children to be conscious of this as well. We will consider some of the battle more specifically next time, D.V., along with scriptural strategies for the fight.
* For more on this subject, read Herman Hoeksema’s exposition of Revelation 13 from Behold, He Cometh!, RFPA.