COMMENTARY: Sword, or the Lord?

Israel has a problem with boasting of its own strength, but a recent lack of rain sent many seeking divine help

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With all the threats Israel is now facing, it is perfectly understandable that they should be sharpening their swords as they prepare for the worst the enemy can throw at them.

A strong defence force is certainly necessary. But an even more serious danger is that they should rely on the power of their weapons, or indeed on their own strength of will and character, along with their growing expertise in military innovations.

It is dangerous because it demonstrates that they are relying on what the Bible refers to as “horses and chariots” rather than on the Lord who called them, as his chosen people, to be a light to the Gentiles.

For it is only when we trust the Lord with all our hearts and not our own understanding that God will give us the guidance we need in order to tread the path for which he has destined us. (See Proverbs 3.5f)

As one who loves Israel, I am not blind to the fact that many of its citizens lead a sinful lifestyle. This is no reason to withdraw support for the beleaguered nation, but they do need to repent of their waywardness and godlessness.

As they have done so many times in their long history, they have absorbed the ways of the world around them – and so we witness political correctness here as elsewhere, most starkly seen in a defiance of sexual morality.

But they are the people of the Book, who gave the world the Bible, the Ten Commandments and Jesus himself. God is saying: do not wait until you are overrun by enemies before you turn back to the Lord, who called you out of slavery in Egypt with a mighty hand. He urges you to trust him now!

That said, thousands of Jews gathered to pray for rain at Jerusalem’s Western Wall on December 28 in response to the call of Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel – and God has clearly answered with an abundant outpouring, coming with such force that it has caused flooding in places.

I very much hope that we are seeing the beginnings of a turning to God in Israel, and the fact that a Government minister has initiated a call to prayer is quite amazing, and hugely encouraging.

I can’t recall why, but my wife and I were discussing Israel’s sin, and whether God’s judgment was inevitable, before turning to our daily reading which is our habit every morning. We use the Every Day With Jesus notes of the late Selwyn Hughes which focuses on a theme over a two-month period drawn together by a variety of different Scripture passages. So we opened the little book and found that the text for the day was Hosea 14.1-3: “Return, Israel, to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall.” (v1) It goes on: “Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount warhorses…” (v3) For Assyria, perhaps we should read America.

The Lord was clearly in on our discussion and had a ready answer! Bear in mind that the prophet was concluding his book which pictures Israel as an adulterous wife who repeatedly runs after other men, breaking the first commandment that we should have no other gods in our lives.

Self-reliance is thus the worst of sins because we put ourselves in God’s place and we are saying we can live without him; that he is redundant. This is gross idolatry, and we must repent of it.

Notice, however, that in spite of their serial adultery, God has not forsaken Israel; he has not divorced the one he loves. He loves her with an everlasting love (Jer 31.3). He has entered into a covenant relationship which cannot be broken. But we should not abuse his great faithfulness.

The recent archaeological find near Tel Aviv, suggesting human activity in the area half-a-million years ago, did not exactly excite me. Far more edifying was the August 2015 find in Gath, a city once occupied by Philistines who plotted against the Israelites, their sworn enemies, and the home of the infamous Goliath!

The huge gates uncovered by archaeologists were thought to be indestructible. But in an extraordinary battle in the Valley of Elah, a young man who trusted in the Lord brought down their giant leader with a single stone, proving indeed that the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength (1 Corinthians 1.25).

Goliath defied the armies of Israel, but David responded: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17.26) And he taunted the giant: “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” (1 Sam 17.45)

Like other nations, Israel needs to seek forgiveness from God for succumbing to the ways of the world as well as for their outright disobedience to his commandments. We need to move from independence – the great sin of the age – to reliance upon God.

Isn’t it time we heard Israel’s leaders say, with great clarity and in defiance of political correctness, that we do not trust in sword or spear or javelin, nor even on our allies, but in the name of the Lord Almighty?

PHOTO: Tel Aviv – a soaring tribute to Israeli hi-tech innovation, but does God get the glory?

Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon, and Peace in Jerusalem, available from


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