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by Al Maxey

Issue #783 ------- September 18, 2019
The wagon rests in winter, the
sleigh in summer, the horse never.

Yiddish Proverb

Seeking War-Horse Salvation
The Deadly Folly of a Misplaced Trust

The great American author John Steinbeck (1902-1968), who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962 "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humor and keen social perception," wrote, "A man on a horse is spiritually, as well as physically, bigger than a man on foot." This might seem at first glance like a rather obvious observation, but the more you reflect upon it the more you begin to realize that Steinbeck has captured an aspect of the human psyche that we all probably overlook, yet can easily relate to in those moments of honest self-analysis. It is the idea of being elevated "above" others, a position of perceived superiority resting upon a visible foundation of power and strength, that carries with it, under certain circumstances and in select situations, an intimidation factor. There is a bit of transference at work in such optics as well, especially if one is astride a large, powerful, fierce looking dark steed. That deadly ferocity is easily transferred, in the mind of the observer, to the rider as well, thus making of the two one fearful entity. Little wonder, then, that throughout recorded history one will often find mankind using horses in a number of ways, and to great effect, during times of great conflict between peoples and nations, both ancient and modern.

When one searches the sacred writings of the OT and NT, one will find the words "horse" and "horseman" (as well as the plural of both) hundreds of times, and the overwhelming majority of these texts deal in some way, whether literally or figuratively, with military conflict and conquest. The horse has long been considered by men as indispensable during times of warfare. Add horse-drawn chariots to this equation and the power of those who possess them is magnified all the more. The history of our species abounds with examples of nations amassing military might for the purpose of national defense, and also for the purpose of pursuing some cause (such as securing freedom for themselves or others, or for acquiring territory and resources). Although "might makes right" isn't always true, it has nevertheless not deterred people from actively embracing it and then implementing it. At times the cause may be righteous, but oftentimes it is not. The Bible, as well as church history over the past two millennia, is filled with examples of both, which men find intriguing and even at times inspiring.

Great causes require great strength. Most peoples and nations understand this, as do most individuals and movements. Where too often a woeful lack of understanding is manifest to the student of history is when such countries and causes seek strength in all the wrong places. At times nations make alliances with other nations unwisely, and have suffered greatly for their folly. The people of Israel, for example, often sought to enlist the aid of pagan nations, thus trusting to the strength of these foreign armies to save them, rather than trusting in the power and might of their God. Regarding one such unwise alliance, the prophet Isaiah declared, "Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many, and in horsemen because they are very strong, but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the Lord" (Isaiah 31:1). They placed their trust for safety and salvation in human power rather than divine power. Isaiah made this very clear: "The Egyptians are men, and not God; their horses are flesh and not spirit. When the Lord stretches out His hand, he who helps will stumble, he who is helped will fall; both will perish together" (Isaiah 31:3). Placing one's trust and faith and hope in the flesh, whether human or horse, will always fail when arrayed against the might of the Almighty. Time and again our God has sought to impress upon mankind that their safety and salvation was/is to be found IN HIM, not in worldly wealth or power or alliances. No nation or people can long last if they look to the might of man for their safety and salvation rather than the might of God.

It is a matter of misplaced faith and trust. This is certainly not to suggest that it is wrong or sinful to make reasonable preparations for one's security and well-being, whether that be individual or national. It is not wrong for a nation to have an army. It is not wrong for a people to arm themselves and train themselves to be effective combatants. There are times when such forces are necessary. The truth Scripture teaches us, however, is that all of these forces and preparations are secondary in nature. Where our trust and faith should always be primarily placed is in the Lord our God. It is faith in Him, not faith in ourselves, that secures and ensures our salvation. "The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the Lord" (Proverbs 21:31). Yes, make wise preparations, but realize where the power and the victory ultimately reside: it is in Him. Thus, it is not we, but He, who deserves the credit and the glory. I like the way The Message renders this text from Proverbs: "Do your best, prepare for the worst - then trust God to bring the victory." A newer translation known as The Voice Bible reads, "No matter how well you arm for battle, victory is determined by Him."

I can't help but think of the story of Gideon in Judges 6-8. The people of Israel had cried out to God for deliverance, so God raised up Gideon. This man realized that he had little power to bring to this task. "O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father's house" (Judges 6:15). The Lord promised to be with Gideon, and to deliver the people from the Midianites. Gideon, as one might expect, set about raising an army, which he then led to the site of the impending battle. The Lord said to him, "The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, lest Israel become boastful, saying, 'My own power has delivered me'" (Judges 7:2). We know the story: the army of Israel was reduced from 32,000 men to only 300, and they won a great victory over their oppressors, even though completely outnumbered. With God on their side, however, numbers were irrelevant. Indeed, they were/are deceptive, for, as the aged apostle John expressed it: "Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4). The young David understood where salvation came from as he went out to meet Goliath (1 Samuel 17). From an earthly perspective, this lad had nothing going for him. He was out-sized and out-gunned; there was no way he should have been able to defeat the giant. But David's faith and trust was not in human size or strength, it was in the power of God. David declared to Goliath, "You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted. This day the Lord will deliver you up into my hands" (1 Samuel 17:45-46). Years later, David wrote, "Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed; He will answer him from His holy heaven, with the saving strength of His right hand. Some boast in chariots, and some in horses; but we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God" (Psalm 20:6-7).

The king of Syria was warring against Israel (2 Kings 6:8), and in a show of force "he sent horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city" of Dothan (vs. 14). The servant of the prophet Elisha, when he arose in the morning and went outside, "beheld an army with horses and chariots all around the city, and he said, 'Alas, my master! What shall we do?!" (vs. 15). Elisha responded calmly, "Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them" (vs. 16). "Then Elisha prayed and said, 'O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.' So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold: the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha" (vs. 17). Where does your trust lie? Where is your faith? In the power of men, horses, chariots ... or in the power of the Almighty God?! Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, decided to invade Judah, and he sent his army to surround the cities of God's people (2 Chronicles 32:1). King Hezekiah immediately set about to make defensive preparations, which is wise and reasonable for any leader to do under such dire circumstances. Nevertheless, Hezekiah knew where the true power to save resided, and he gathered his commanders together "and spoke encouragingly to them, saying, 'Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.' And the people took confidence from the word of Hezekiah king of Judah" (vs. 6-8).

"The king is not saved by a mighty army; a warrior is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a false hope for victory; nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength" (Psalm 33:16-17). With regard to this passage, Drs. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown observe, "Men's usual reliances in their greatest exigencies are, in themselves, useless" [Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 419]. Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), a renowned English Baptist pastor, wrote the following in his work The Treasury of David, "Mortal power is a fiction, and those who trust in it are dupes. Military strength among the Orientals lay much in horses and scythed chariots, but the Psalmist calls them a lie, a deceitful confidence." We are "dupes" when we trust more in our own power to save than we do in His. Large armies, a host of horses and chariots, and countless weapons impress us, and we too often place our trust in these earthly things, when our trust and faith should be in far greater realities at our disposal. Spurgeon rightly stated, "The discerning eye of faith sees more in an invisible God than in all these. But, alas, how many in our day who profess to be the Lord's are as abjectly dependent upon their fellow men or upon an arm of flesh in some shape or other, as if they had never known the name of Jehovah at all. Jesus, be Thou alone our rock and refuge, and never may we mar the simplicity of our faith."

"How easy it is to rely on one's own abilities" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 191]. Yes, "some trust in chariots and some in horses" (Psalm 20:7) for their salvation, but he who is spiritually discerning places his trust/faith in the Lord. It is not our power and actions and resources that save us, rather we are delivered when we trust Him. It is a human tendency to trust in our own abilities, believing that in them we can overcome that which comes against us. Again, there is nothing wrong with making reasonable and rational preparations, as long as we never forget where our deliverance truly lies! David did indeed carry with him a sling, some stones, and a stick; Gideon did indeed take 300 men with him. But neither David nor Gideon placed any trust or faith whatsoever in these resources. Their confidence was in the Lord. They knew that they themselves had absolutely nothing to boast of; their boast was in Him. Horses can't save us. Armies can't save us. Sticks, stones and swords can't save us. Our safety and security cannot be found in them, no matter how powerful they may appear to us to be. "These biblical illustrations are all designed to lead the mind to the great idea that safety is to be found in God alone" [Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. "God forbade the kings of Israel to multiply horses (Deuteronomy 17:16), lest they should be tempted to trust in them, and their confidence should thereby be taken off from God" [Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. "The horse may be ready for the battle, the 'powder may be dry,' but all is vain unless His blessing has been sought and gained" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 9, p. 416].

Brethren, let us make sure that we don't miss the great spiritual truth being presented to us in these various passages dealing with armies, chariots and horses. You and I are in a daily battle for our very lives, a struggle for survival against spiritual forces (Ephesians 6:12) determined to destroy us and rob us of that abundant life our Lord has promised to those who have faith in Him. We are tempted to rely on our own abilities and deeds to secure salvation. Too many believe their spiritual success depends to a large degree on themselves, rather than fully trusting the Lord for that sought after and longed for salvation. These passages are trying to show us that "ultimate success comes from God and not from human effort" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1059]. Our own efforts, works, preparations, attitudes and actions are not sufficient to save us. We are saved by grace through faith. Period! There is absolutely nothing we can do to secure this salvation. It is a gift for those who believe; for those who trust Him. "And so all such persons are foolish and miserable who trust in an arm of flesh; who place their confidence in creature acts, in their own righteousness, duties, and services," and who therefore do not "submit to the holiness and righteousness of Christ" [Dr. John Gill, Exposition of the Entire Bible, e-Sword]. Salvation is of the Lord our God, and "this is true of spiritual and eternal salvation, as well as of temporal salvation" [ibid]. All of our works and deeds and religious exercises are like unto these horses and chariots upon which some relied for their deliverance and salvation. They are all useless to save us. "All external things in which men depend for salvation, such as fleshly privileges, outward works of righteousness, morality, a profession of religion, a round of duties, etc., are disclaimed by those who know the way of life and salvation in Christ" [ibid].

We must adopt the attitude expressed in Hosea 14:3 - "Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount war-horses; and we will never again say 'Our God,' to the work of our hands." I fear that over the centuries we have made "gods" of our own works, looking to them as the source of our salvation and security. We have taken such good activities as public worship, partaking of the Lord's Supper, baptism in water, acts of benevolence, and the like, and we have made them sacraments, investing these acts themselves with the power to save. It is time to step down from these chariots, to dismount from these horses, and to realize that our deliverance is of Him and NOT of us. There is nothing wrong with chariots and horses, or with various religious traditions and practices and righteous acts, as long as we never forget from whence cometh our deliverance. If your faith and trust is in a what, rather than in a Whom, may God open your eyes of faith to the salvation you are missing. May the Spirit help us all to be perceptive disciples, not pitiful dupes!


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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Maxey, I continue to appreciate your well-written and insightful articles. I hope you personally, and your family and church, are doing well. I have been reading some articles regarding the discussions and decisions from the Vatican II Council back in 1962-1965. I am attaching one that I thought was interesting ("What Does it Mean to be Ecumenical?" by Thomas Ryan). By changing just a few words and phrases, this could very well have been written by some of our Church of Christ leaders in the past few years. No matter how well-written and well-spoken our words are, however, we must still be able to see beyond our own created and favorite doctrinal barriers, so that we will be able to appreciate the genuine faith and devotion of people in other churches and denominations. It seems every group is held back from any true beginning of real unity of faith by all of our sectarian walls. I want to thank you for your work in helping us to see beyond ourselves. Love you, brother!

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Brother, I am sending you a check for the cost of receiving via my personal email all four of your books in MS Word format, as per your advertisement (Maxey's Books in Digital Format). I really look forward to receiving and reading your material. Thank you!

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, I will be retiring in November and my current email will be going away at that time. Would you please change my old email to this new one in your mailing list files for your Reflections? Thank you! Thank you also for your scholarship! Your articles have been a blessing and a challenge to me over the years.

From a Minister in Wyoming:

Thank you, Al, for your latest article: "The Post-Mortem Gospel: The Rise and Fall of Jesse Babcock Ferguson" (Reflections #782). I agree with the quote you provided by Enos E. Dowling: "Would a more generous course, a kindlier attitude, have saved Jesse Ferguson for a useful and continuing ministry in the Christian Church?" Had things been handled differently by some who didn't agree with his theology, Ferguson may have been salvaged. This is such a sad story; one that has been repeated way too many times in "our tribe."

From a Minister in Arkansas:

Al, thanks again for a well-researched and thoughtful article ("The Post-Mortem Gospel"). I was surprised by Alexander Campbell's reaction to Jesse Ferguson, because his tolerance of other people's views was something that I have referenced many times as being sorely needed in our dealings with each other today. Recently, I encountered a man who launched into a diatribe on how all of our Christian colleges had fallen down "the slope of heresy," and that even included the one he had graduated from. In his opinion there is only one college left that is "guarding the old paths." I questioned him to see if he had actually visited any of these institutions or talked with their leaders. He admitted that he had not. He conceded that he had gotten his information from some of our ultra-conservative publications. In other words, it was just plain hearsay. Keep challenging our thinking, Al. Blessings and Godspeed.

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Al, in the same vein of thought as your latest article, I am curious to know if you have produced any writing regarding another key figure in our church history: Daniel Sommer, and specifically his "Sand Creek Address and Declaration." As I remember from my studies many years ago, this man was responsible for creating the Church of Christ sect as a separate and distinct body beginning from that meeting in 1889 at Sand Creek, Illinois. I have not recently gone back and researched this part of our history, so I am just going from memory here. Perhaps you may be able to clarify, or further expound upon, this man's influence from a historical perspective. I did do a quick search and found the following, although I have not yet read it in its entirety: "Breakup of a Movement: Documents from Sand Creek" by A. K. Guthrie. It amazes me that there is so much history that directly relates to our mindset in the conservative Church of Christ (yes, I spell it with an upper case "C"), and yet many (if not all) of these ultra-conservatives do not have a clue! They believe our history is irrelevant, and they will reply (as I once did myself) that we were established in 33 A.D. If you do not presently have any articles on this man, I think it would be great if you would write one, thus making people more aware of this man and the impact he made on the "Restoration Movement." Thank you so much!

From a Minister in New Zealand:

Al, I just read your latest Reflections about Jesse Ferguson and Alexander Campbell. Yes, there is a lesson here for all of us. It is not just how we act, but also how we too often react. It makes me realize again how easy it is to turn inward, defending the faith (and all that that might mean). Yes, there is a point where some things are blatantly wrong and must be confronted, but LOVE too can still be a great remedy! I appreciate your insightful and candid research into these things. I went to a church history presentation the other night which was very interesting and insightful. I was pleasantly surprised with the approach. It emphasized looking for points of commonality rather than difference. It is always easier to gravitate to the negative than it is to move toward the positive. Thanks again for your article.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Al, I surely am happy to see someone preaching and teaching "saved by grace through faith" in the Church of Christ. I thought that would never happen, as it is "too much like what the denominations teach!" O how I have also looked forward to the day when someone would take the ultra-conservatives on from within "our" church (it does the heart of this 80 year old former US Marine good). I want to extend a heartfelt THANKS to your congregation there for supporting you and your teaching, for I can tell you for sure that in all the congregations around here, what you teach would be the "kiss of death" for any preacher who dared to do the same from the pulpit. I don't mean to bother you, brother, but we in Alabama need help!!

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