A Man of Peace, A Man of War
(pre July 1995)
"Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." (Matt. 10:34)
"These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
Both of our texts, you will notice, are taken from the words of Jesus. They may seem to be contradictory, but they both are full of meaning and of truth. They point to the fact that in life there are many paradoxes. We must both "Follow peace with all men," and "fight the good fight of faith." (Heb. 12:14, 1 Tim. 6:12) So it was with Abraham, called the "father of the faithful."
There are many chapters in Genesis devoted to Abraham and his life. One could no doubt write a good many pages on these chapters without exhausting the mine of treasures. We will be thinking primarily, however, of two aspects, and two main incidents, that illustrate two sides of the Christian life.
On the one hand we have Abraham arming his servants and going out to wage war against the kings who had taken his kinsman Lot and his family captive. On the other hand we have Abraham coming to a loving and thoughtful separation from Lot when their herds had grown too large to dwell together, allowing the younger man to choose where he would go, and taking the second choice.
Abraham and Lot, you will remember, had some years earlier left the land of their birth and had gone, at God's command, into the land of Canaan. The Lord had appeared to Abraham and had said, "Unto thy seed will I give this land," and Abraham built an altar there unto the Lord." (Genesis 12:7)
Time passed. There was a famine in the land, and Abraham went to Egypt, as the Israelites were to do in a similar time many generations later. Then he returned out of Egypt, "and Lot with him, into the south." (Gen. 13:1) By this time he was a wealthy man: "very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold." Lot also had his "flocks, and herds, and tents. And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together."
Hundreds of years later the Psalmist David was to reflect on how good and pleasant it is when brethren can dwell together in unity. And how good it is today!
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren toIn this case that was not to be. There was "a strife between the herdmen of Abram's cattle and the herdmen of Lot's cattle," and further, "the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land." (Gen. 13:7) Here we find the greatness of Abraham "coming to the fore." As the older man, and as the uncle of Lot, it would have seemed logical for Abraham to have the choice of land where he and his family, his flocks and his herds would dwell, giving the second choice to his younger kinsman. Instead he spoke these magnanimous and kindly words:
"Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren. Is not the whole land before thee: separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left." (13:8-9) Could anything be more generous than this?
Lot might have reciprocated this generosity and deferred to the older man, his uncle, but the sight of the "well-watered plain of Jordan," appearing to Lot "as the garden of the Lord," was too tempting. (v. 10) Remember, this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. As the saying goes, things are not always what they seem. Someone has described apples of Sodom as being very beautiful to behold, but turning to ashes at the touch. So it is with the pleasures of this world, when sought for their own sake, and when God is left out of consideration.
And so it must have been to Lot, some years later, as he regarded the smoking ruins of the flourishing cities where he had lived, and as he gazed for the last time on his wife, who had turned to a pillar of salt. (Gen. 19:26)
Lot had been beguiled by the well-watered plain of Jordan. He had not realized, it seems, the most notable thing about the people he was to make his neighbors: "the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly." (Gen. 13:13)
It is one thing to go to a heathen land as a missionary, with the purpose of being used of the Lord to bring the light of salvation to those who do not know the way of the Lord. It is quite another thing to set up a home in wicked surroundings, and to allow one's family to partake of the wicked ways of the people.
Just after Lot had separated himself from Abraham, the Lord again appeared unto the patriarch with a renewal of His promise. The land before him, in all directions, was to belong to his seed, who would become as numerous as the dust of the earth. (v. 16) Then we read that Abraham built an altar to the Lord.
At this time there was a battle of four kings against five. It seems that Chedorlaomer had conquered the other tribes in the area, and for twelve years they had served him and paid tribute to him. Now they rose in revolt, but were defeated by Chedorlaomer and his hosts. Lot and his family were among those that were taken captive, and all of their possessions were seized.
Someone escaped, and told Abraham what had happened. This man of peace, who had deferred to his nephew in choosing where to go, lost no time in leading forth his trained servants, some three hundred and eighteen of them, we read, and at night, divided into two groups, "smote them and pursued them to Hobah, which is the left hand of Damascus." (Gen. 14:15) What a fighter this man turned out to be! He "brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people." This was a great victory, and some might imagine he would make the most of it.
There is a saying, "To the victor belongs the spoils." If not known in that form in the days of Abraham, at least the idea was widely accepted. We see that Abraham thought otherwise: "I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet," he said to the king of Sodom. What the men had eaten, and the portion of those that went with him, would be accepted, but not a thing for himself!
Once again, at this critical time, the word of the Lord comes to Abraham in a vision: "Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward." (Gen. 15:1) Then it was that a child was promised to him. In due time Sarah would miraculously give birth to Isaac.
In his wonderful "sermon" in Romans12, St. Paul exhorts his readers, including us today: "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men." (v. 18) That is a large order, is it not? Yet it is something every Christian should diligently strive to do.
On the other hand, there is sometimes a battle that must be fought. It is often a spiritual battle, for Paul challenged his son-in-the-Gospel, Timothy, to "fight the good fight of faith," and "lay hold on eternal life." (1 Timothy 6:12) He was able to testify, later on, as he was facing death at the hands of Nero in Rome: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith." (2 Tim. 4:7) This was a spiritual warfare that Paul fought, and it required putting on "the whole armor of God": the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit (which is the Word of God), the helmet of salvation, and the other necessary protective offensive and defensive garments and weapons.
Sometimes the battle may involve another type of warfare. In Hebrews 11:32-33 mention is made of those "who through faith subdued kingdoms." Gideon, Barak, and Samson were among those the Lord raised up to bring deliverance to His people, and we thank God for those He has raised up in more recent times to help bring liberty to our own land.
There have been, and are today, true Christians among such fellowships as the Friends (or Quakers) and the Mennonites who have made a struggle for peace in the world, sometimes at great personal sacrifice. Others, while loving peace just as dearly, have sensed the leading of the Lord to "strike a blow for freedom" in somewhat the way of Abraham. The name of Sergeant York comes readily to mind. American cemeteries at home, and in many a land abroad, enshrine the graves of thousands of these who have been willing to lay down their lives for their country, that you and I might enjoy the blessings of freedom, including the right to worship God according to the dictates of our consciences.
I have been privileged to visit well-kept American cemeteries near Florence, Italy; in France; in Belgium; and even the huge "Punchbowl Cemetery" in Honolulu where lie the remains of thousands who gave their lives for our freedoms.
During the Revolutionary War there were many clergymen belonging to various denominations who played a major role in "fanning the fires of freedom," which led to independence for the new nation. One of these, John Peter Muhlenberg, evidently felt that words were not enough, and it is related that one Sunday morning he preached his farewell sermon to his congregation. He was wearing his clerical robe, as was his custom, during the service, and at the end of his sermon he spoke a few words of farewell and explanation to his hearers, and then took off his clerical robe, revealing underneath the uniform of an officer in the United States Army under George Washington.
Some patriotic Christians have strongly
felt that, in time of national struggle, one should be willing either to
wage war against the enemy of our souls as a soldier of the cross, or enlist
in the service of one's country.
Am I a soldier of the cross--
Conquerors and overcomers now are we,
--Mrs. C. H. Morris