Promises and Plans

Just when we think we understand God’s plan for our lives, He sometimes takes us the opposite way than we would expect.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Gen. 22:8 (NIV)

“Now there was a famine in the land… The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live.” Gen. 26:1-2 (NIV)

The Lord had promised an heir to Abraham and had miraculously brought it to pass.  But He made it clear that even though Isaac was a key figure in His plan, and even though he was the long-awaited fulfillment of a promise, it still was not all about Isaac. Flying in the face of logic, which would dictate that the precious promised one should be protected at all costs, the Lord asked Abraham to sacrifice him. When Abraham, in faith, went through the steps of doing so, right up to the last second, the Lord stopped him and reiterated His promise to bless the world through his offspring.

Fast-forward to the time when Isaac was an adult, married with children — the seed of the promise and the carrying out of God’s plan. Once again, logic would dictate protecting them and providing for them in whatever way was practical.  But when famine came to the land, the Lord instructed Isaac not to take the prudent course of taking refuge in Egypt, but to stay in the land where He had told them to live. When Isaac obeyed, He again reiterated the promise of blessing through the offspring.

Abraham and Isaac both seemed to understand an important concept here — it was important to keep listening to the Lord even after He had delivered on His promise, and even after He had set His plan in motion. When He promises us something, and especially when that promise or that plan involves a period of waiting, our faith can be built by the process as we learn to trust Him.  However, if the focus of that faith shifts off the Lord and onto the promise, or the plan, then we can be in danger of going astray after its completion.

This is usually right at the point where we think we are “safe.” The long-awaited answer to prayer is delivered, or the wheels finally begin to turn on the new ministry or venture, and things appear to be just as they should be. This is not the time to get complacent, though. Just as Abraham needed to understand that he could not hold on to the son for which he waited such a long time, and just as Isaac needed to understand that his safety lay in obedience to the Lord and not necessarily in what he thought was the best course of action, we need to understand that the important thing in our lives is our relationship to the Lord, not the circumstances we have so longed for.

It’s never about the promise or the plan; it’s always about the Promiser and the Planner.

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Fighting The Battle With Your Hands Full

Judges 6-7

English: Gideon and His Three Hundred; as in J...

Gideon and His Three Hundred; as in Judges 7:9-23; illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When God called Gideon to fight the invading Midianites, it was all about God’s glory rather than man’s ability.

From start to finish, God was determined to show His hand working as He not only delivered the Israelites from their enemies, but did it in such a way that no man could possibly take the credit for it.  He wanted the Israelites to know who their Deliverer was so they would stop turning away from Him to other gods.

First of all, to begin his great plan of deliverance, God approached a man who was threshing wheat in a winepress.   Since threshing depends on wind to blow away the chaff, a winepress is not the most effective venue for it.   Anyone with experience with grass clipping, dead leaves, or, indeed, actual threshing, can probably imagine that a good portion of the chaff was sticking to Gideon.  This was the man God chose to call “Mighty Man of Valor.”  (Judges 6:12)

Now there was neither “mighty” nor “valor” about this man at that moment.  There was “fearfully trying to get some food to survive this invasion.”   There was “do this by myself so there’s a better chance I’ll get away with it without drawing attention to myself.”  There was certainly “chaff-encrusted beard and hair.”  And by Gideon’s own account there was, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” (Judges 6:15)

But God is the “God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were” (Rom. 4:17),  so He went ahead and called Gideon anyway and assured him He would be with him.  It took some persuasion, testing and patience, but He eventually convinced Gideon to answer the call.

Granted, Gideon’s first act of valor, pulling down his father’s altar to Baal and cutting down his Asherah pole, was done at night “because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day.” (Judges 6:27)

And granted, he required not one but two miraculous signs to confirm that God was really going to do what He said.

But still, he stepped out, trusted God and eventually mustered some men.  It was an army of about 32,000, which is a fairly decent troop for the least in the house, from the weakest clan.  Fairly decent, as long as you don’t think about the fact that “the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern people had settled in the valley, thick as locusts,” and that “their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore.”

But God is the God for whom “nothing is too difficult.” (Jer. 32:17)  So it should come as no surprise that the Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands.”  Gideon’s army was getting in the way.  God didn’t need Gideon’s strength, Gideon’s fame, Gideon’s cunning or Gideon’s valor, and apparently He didn’t really need Gideon’s men, either.  He chose Gideon to be His “mighty warrior” precisely because he did not possess those qualities in any great measure.  God’s idea of a mighty warrior was a man who, totally against the odds, would step out and obey a call that seemed ludicrous to consider.

At some point, Gideon seems to catch on, because without arguing he sent home 22,000 men.

The 10,000 men he had left was nowhere near enough to fight the eastern hoards, but at least it felt like an army.  Again, however, God didn’t need an army.  He didn’t even need the feel of an army.  He wanted to deliver Israel in such a way that Israel could not boast that “her own strength had saved her.” So He winnowed the army down to 300 men.

Three hundred men. There was no escaping reality at this point.  This was not an army.  This was a special force of the bravest and most alert men, but it wasn’t a big enough force in and of itself to make a dent in the hosts of the enemy.

And since God is the God who brings life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were, and since God is the God for whom nothing is too difficult, He sent these 300 men into battle… armed with a trumpet in one hand and a torch in the other.  A trumpet and a torch.  Not exactly what I would want to have in my hands were I to go into battle where the enemy vastly outnumbered us.  A sword at my side would have been little comfort if I had no free hand with which to draw it. But that was precisely what God wanted.  There was no question at this point that it was God who would fight the battle.  He had so filled their hands with the things He wanted them to carry, the tools for the plan He had in mind, that there was no way they could fight their own battle.

If they had not trusted God, if they had looked at the situation with their human understanding and said, “This is crazy!  I’m not going in there without my sword in my hand,” then they would not have been able to do what God wanted with the torches and the trumpets.  The enemy would not have been thrown into confusion, would not have fled, and the group of men would have been left with the option of fighting a vast horde with 300 swords, or fleeing themselves.  The only way they could hope to win this battle was to do exactly what God said.  He never intended for them to use their swords in this battle, despite the fact that “going into battle” is pretty much synonymous in the mind of any warrior with “being fully armed.”

Which makes me wonder how many times I’m picking up the reasonable tool to solve a problem, trusting on my own skill, knowledge, money, connections or sheer will-power, when all along God wants me to put those things aside and pick up the tools of His plan.  Maybe He doesn’t want me barreling into a meeting with my superior grasp of the problem, so that I can show up my co-workers with my brilliant solution.  Maybe He wants me to simply wait for the right time and his prompting and say one sentence that will change everything, without putting anyone else to shame.  Maybe He doesn’t want me throwing the law against my neighbor with his loud music and late-night parties.  Maybe He wants me to pray for him when I can’t sleep, show him love and bring him food when he’s sick.

There is no formula for winning battles.  As far as we know, Gideon never again went into battle armed with torches and trumpets. The point isn’t to do foolish things.  The point is to listen to the Lord and trust Him when His plan appears to fly in the face of reason.  And to remember that He is the “God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were” (Rom. 4:17) and that “nothing is too difficult” for Him. (Jer. 32:17)