Several times in my life, I have experienced what I would consider abnormally consequential "spiritual battles." These were moments when the fate of a church or a ministry was on the line, and the spiritual well-being of a large group of people was going to be impacted if something wasn't done to correct a problem or chart a new course.
In each of those instances, I have noticed a pattern. You'll usually find people who are discouraged, and a general sense of disorder. In some instances, you'll also discover one or more people who are actively working against that church or ministry succeeding. They'll do things like spreading falsehood or negativity about the leadership, covering up their own misdoings, and sometimes stealing resources or money. But in each consequential spiritual battle that I've felt called by the Lord to get involved in, I have also been completely convinced that He was going to make all the details work out, and grant a decisive victory. And that's exactly what He did.
When I look at a portion of Scripture like Joel 3:9-16, it feels somewhat familiar to me because in a personal way, I have seen the Lord bring victory over adversity while giving my heart complete peace that the victory He was securing was absolutely guaranteed. What is the primary victory the Lord promises to secure in this passage? What does this Scripture show us about moments like this?
I. The weak stay weak because they're fooling themselves
In this portion of Scripture, we see a war taking place. The war that's described here is often referred to by students of the Bible as "The Battle of Armageddon." This is a battle that is described elsewhere in Scripture when the armies of the world, aligned with the Antichrist, engage in battle against Christ and His people.
Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” (Psalm 2:1-3, ESV)
"And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon." (Revelation 16:16, ESV)
At that time, the nations are going to rise up, and their mighty men are going to be stirred up to seek to throw off any bonds of allegiance or obligation to the Lord. Their resources and their farming tools are going to be transformed into weapons of war, and they're going to rush into battle convinced of their victory, but they'll fail.
Even the weak are going to get scooped up into this hysteria, and with the encouragement of others are going to start fooling themselves into thinking that they're strong. This frequently happens during seasons of war if nations become so desperate for man power that they'll take anyone.
Have you ever looked at who comprised many of the soldiers during the later years of the American Civil War? Very young teenagers were often counted among the ranks. The same thing happened in Germany toward the end of World War II. Their battalions were being staffed by kids who were encouraged to enlist, then sent off to war because their leaders were desperate.
Those are some of the images that come to my mind when I read this passage from Joel. In the rush to battle, even those who aren't truly ready for war are going to convince themselves that they are. The weak are going to stay weak because they're fooling themselves.
I don't know about you, but I don't want to be weak and I certainly don't want to fool myself. Weakness is embraced by those who don't understand where true strength comes from. Our strength comes from submitting ourselves to Jesus, not fighting against Him. Those who submit their lives to Him are graced with His strength and wisdom, while those who reject Him persist in their own weakness and folly.
II. The proud rush to their destruction
One of the scariest parts of parenting occurs when your children start to drive. And in the process of teaching your children to drive, you find yourself analyzing quite a few aspects of the nature of driving because you want to prepare them for all possible scenarios.
How many times when you've been driving have you seen someone who merges recklessly or swerves in and out of traffic? How many times have you seen someone try to pass a large truck on the right and nearly hit a car because they couldn't see that it was stopped on the other side of that truck? In their haste, many drivers have hit or nearly hit others while they essentially rushed to their destruction.
There is going to come a time when the nations of the world are going to do that very thing. They are going to swell with pride, put the blinders on their eyes, then rush to their own destruction. They are going to set themselves against the Lord, hurry to do battle with Him, then discover that they rushed right into their own judgment.
But this is what pride does, correct? Pride has a blinding effect on us. Scripture tells us multiple times that the Lord opposes the proud, but He shows grace to the humble, yet a large percentage of humanity chooses pride anyway. And even though we may not think of ourselves as fighting against the Lord in those moments, that's exactly what we're doing.
If we desire to experience the blessings of God's grace, there has to be a time in our lives when we leave our pride behind, and humbly admit our need for Christ our Savior. He offers to rescue us. He offers to bless us. He offers to allow us to reign with Him, but we'll never experience that if our hearts remain bent on resisting Him.
III. The Lord cuts down the forces of evil
I recently came across a video of trees being trimmed in a unique way. Their branches were interfering with power lines, so a large chainsaw-like-device was suspended by a cord from a helicopter. The pilot of that helicopter expertly weaved that sharp saw along the edge of those trees and quickly sliced off the branches that were causing issues without cutting the power lines. I was amazed at the pilot's precision and the sharpness of the saw.
We're given similar imagery in this passage of Scripture of the Lord quickly and expertly cutting down the forces of evil as if He's using a great sickle. The evil that prevails among the nations is prevalent and plentiful, but the Lord assures us that the day is coming when He will deal with it all.
I'm sure there's some form of injustice in this world that troubles you. Maybe you've been praying about areas of oppression or persecution that you'd love to see come to an end. Well, the good news is that the day is coming when it's all going to be stopped, "For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision."
IV. The people of God find refuge
Across the street from my office is a hospital, which means that several times a day, I hear the sounds of sirens as people are rushed into that building by ambulances. The sound of a siren is loud. It's gets your attention, and it means something different to you depending on what's taking place in your life. If you just committed a crime, the sound of a siren would spark in your heart the fear of getting caught. If you just crashed your car, the sound of a siren would flood your heart with the relief of knowing that help was on the way.
Joel 3:16 tells us that the Lord, "roars from Zion." We're also told that at the sound of His voice, the heavens and the earth quake. For those who reject Him and fight against Him, that's a sound that will spark fear, but for those who rejoice in His presence and protection, that's the sound of victory being secured.
If you know Christ, you're on the right side of that roar. If you know Christ, you have found the refuge you need.
Years ago, I was driving in a blizzard with my wife and my sister. We were still in college at the time and trying to get back to campus when we got caught in the bad weather. It was freezing cold outside, the snow was piling up quickly, and we heard over the radio that we had until 9:00pm to get off the roads, at which time the governor was ordering all roads to be shut down.
We struggled to get the car through the snow. Every few feet it would get stuck and I would have to get out and push. We eventually banded together with several other cars that were struggling to get through, and we did our best to make it to an exit. We were on the road for many hours, but we finally made it back to campus. I have never been so thankful for a warm building and a soft bed as I was that night. My dorm felt like a place of genuine refuge to me.
In an even deeper sense, Christ is our ultimate refuge from sin, evil, and abandonment. We find our hope, our sense of safety, and our eternal home in Him. No one, and nothing else in this world can provide us the kind of refuge that our Lord can. His victory over sin, Satan, and death is guaranteed. There is no adversity we will ever face that He can't defeat.
© John Stange, 2019