19:13, "Be of good courage, and let us behave ourselves valiantly for our
people, and for the cities of our God: and let the LORD do that which is good in
This morning, two concepts that become quite convoluted in modern theological discussions are: God's ultimate sovereignty and control and man's responsibility and behaviour. Too many times, especially these days, people equate power with desire. In other words, they believe people fully do what they are capable of doing. In a modern society given to excess, self-control is a foreign concept, and therefore, discussion in which the thought of temperance or self-control is introduced immediately receives a blind eye or deaf ear. To discuss God's sovereignty demands that we also introduce the concept of His self-control in conjunction with it. Just because God is able and capable of doing something does not guarantee that He will do it at that point or ever. The bounds of His ability are never-ending and limitless in its power, but the bounds of His will are seen at different times and places as His hand is stayed from doing something that it is fully able to do. People today use the argument "if He exists and could have done something He would have" to deny the existence of God or at least of His sovereign power. However, it should be no wonder that they deny God's sovereignty through His self-control as they have no exercise of such in their life either.
To find the harmony that the Bible teaches between God's sovereignty and man's actions, let us lay some groundwork first. God does what pleases Him, and when something happens that displeases Him, we should not ever charge Him with performance of that action in a causative way. If wicked things happen, we know that His power was able to prevent it, but His will was not to do so. This does not charge the black mark to God's sovereignty, but rather, it lands squarely on man's shoulders for his actions. If we find something good in this life, we need to understand that the ultimate fountainhead of goodness is God Himself. (James 1:17) Without His performance of the initial work of grace in the heart, no man on earth would have been capable of doing that which is truly good. In conjunction with that, God providentially blesses His people during the different scenes of their lives, and ultimately, He smiles on their actions when they willingly perform
obedience in harmony with that new nature that He has implanted.
In our verse above, David's army is fighting the Syrians and Ammonites, while being led by Joab and his brother Abishai. Since the Ammonites have hired the Syrians to help them fight against Israel, Joab devises a plan of battle "divide and conquer" that has been employed by different military leaders down through the centuries. As half the army stays with Joab to fight the Syrians and half with Abishai to fight the Ammonites, Joab gives the statement from above. While Joab's normal behaviour is that of bloody treachery, he does at times show forth wise counsel and statements (such as the time he urged David not to number the people in II Samuel 24 and I Chronicles 21). This statement by Joab shows a wise coupling of his understanding for his own conduct with an ultimate plea for Divine assistance.
The first statements of Joab to his brother are those relating to courage and valiance in battle. For the leader to his men, the common foot soldier needs to see great strength and courage in the face of distress. Consider the mindset of soldiers that believe their leader is a coward. Joab encourages his brother to be strong and of good courage for the men that follow them and the people they are representing back home. We might consider this mindset to be that of "manliness." Sometimes, different words are known most commonly for their bad connotations rather than their good ones. Manliness is just such a word. More often than not, this word brings to mind (especially in its context of use) concepts of pride, chauvinism, ego, and misogyny. However, a Biblical approach of manliness reveals things that God expects of His soldiers as they were perfectly executed by His Son.
Paul exhorts the Corinthians to quit themselves like men. (I Corinthians 16:13-14) This does not mean to quit acting like men, but rather, it means to arm themselves or prepare themselves like men (as opposed to children). They need to be prepared to accept responsibility for their actions. They need to be ready to say "the buck stops here" in other words. Peter calls upon his readers to begin adding things to their faith in successive fashion to be more fit (quit) as disciples of Christ to serve and honour Him better as good soldiers. The first thing commanded to add to faith is virtue. While virtue most commonly refers to "moral goodness, excellence, and uprightness,
Joab's command here shows a proper understanding that we must fight and conduct ourselves in a way becoming soldiers that do not say "well there is nothing for me to do here." Can God and has He before fought the battle completely for them? Has he fought alongside with them having the woods devour the enemy or raining down large hailstones from heaven? The answer in both cases is yes, and God was certainly able to deliver in this way again. Yet, Joab was not going to sit on his hands and say, "If the Lord wants me to move, he will parachute the message from heaven." While such statements appear humorous on the surface, too many times, I am guilty of waiting around for just such manifest commands and waste much time that could have been employed in His service.
At the end of the day, however, Joab rightly understands the need to bow in submission before the Just and Sovereign LORD. Knowing that the One they serve is able to destroy and deliver without their efforts, Joab is ready to honourably fight for the sake of his king and King. With that thought in mind, Joab invokes Divine assistance by the admission that God does that which is good in His sight. As the ultimate Sovereign, He is not required to bless, keep, and uphold, but Joab understands that the LORD has promised such to Israel. (Deuteronomy 30) The LORD promised the blessing when the good path of life is chosen. Therefore, Joab makes earnest plea to Abishai to fight honourably, courageously, valiantly, and in the true virtuous manly fashion. By doing so, they would be doing that which the LORD said was good and pleasing in His sight. By fulfilling that command, Joab was confident that the LORD'S blessing would be upon them. Not knowing for
sure, he phrases it as the LORD doing that which is good in His sight. That statement is true whether or not the LORD had smiled upon their battle and efforts. Yet, the structure of Joab's discourse shows that he is confident in the LORD'S providential assistance.
In our lives as soldiers of Jesus Christ, there are times when He sees fit and good to bless us even when we are not acting like good soldiers. Granted, many times, the blessing is found in the midst of chastening, but how confident are we in His Divine assistance when in the midst of sloppy soldiering? Preachers, how confident are you in His blessing your preaching on Sunday with no study, prayer, and meditation put in beforehand? Fathers and mothers, how confident are you in His blessing upon our rearing of our children when we fail to engage the things He has laid upon us in teaching, instructing, correcting, and loving them? Churches, how confident are you in His blessing upon our services when we fail to keep house as He has dictated and commanded that we should? In all of the above cases can and does He bless us in spite of ourselves? Praise God He does at times! This blessing, however, is not infinite in scope when we fail to turn from our shortcomings, but the blessing comes even though we try to mess it all up. Even though this is true, are we full of confidence and assurance of His blessing during times of weak soldiering? Simply put, no we are not (or at least we should not).
However, when we engage the enemy as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, enduring the hardness of the conflict, there is some confidence and assurance within the soul that our efforts are good and pleasing in His sight. This assurance combines with the thought that He has promised to extol and honour the faithful service of His servants. While our best efforts are no more deserving of praise than just an admission, "We have done that which was our duty to do," yet they are performed with the confidence that His good is always done. As His good pleasure is done, He very graciously promises to bless us and deliver us in fashion with our well-pleasing actions as sweet odours in His nostrils. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were confident before Nebuchadnezzar that their God would deliver them. While they were not completely sure if He would deliver them from the fire, they were absolutely certain that His good pleasure of deliverance would come to them
either by life (salvation from the fire) or death (salvation from the king). (Daniel 3:16-18) Therefore, knowing that our God does whatsoever pleases Him, may our actions be those that please Him as well. We are responsible as soldiers of the kingdom in warfare under the eyes of the King. He upholds His goodness and severity by righteous judgment. May we lovingly and honourably serve Him in a manly fashion always bowing before Him with confidence of His pleasure and smiles upon us.