One of the victory stories in the bible that has always seemed odd to me is the one where the walls of Jericho come crashing down. It seems odd to me for good reason. Joshua and his army did nothing! At least nothing of military significance - they had no tools, no strategy, no game-plan - yet they took the city victoriously (Joshua 6).
Another victory story that seems to defy the practices that lead to modern day successes is that of King David when he was a young shepherd boy. The Israelite army was head-to-head with the Philistines and the Philistine hero, Goliath, taunted the Israelites as the inferior warriors. In the end, the runt boy David, who wasn't even supposed to be at the battle lines, took on the Philistine hero and won the victory - against all odds (1 Samuel 17).
Similarly, chapter 20 of second Chronicles tells the story of King Jehoshaphat. He was informed by his men that a 'vast army' was on its way and that they had already advanced into close territory (2 Chron 20:2). Jehoshaphat's army was weaker, ill-equipped, and ill-prepared. However, when they went out to meet this superior force, they saw that their enemies were already defeated - with dead bodies scattered across the valley (2 Chron 20:24).
Most of my career has been in teaching and strategy; two fields that are predicated on learning, and using that knowledge to construct viable paths forward to build a better future. In strategy, for example, to accomplish a victory we would develop a vision, create a strategy around that vision, set goals, set up a plan of action, align resources around the plan, and execute the plan. The stories of Joshua at Jericho, David and Goliath, and King Jehoshaphat, suggest none of these things were done, yet they gained complete victory!
A closer look . . .
In the book of Joshua, Jericho is described as "tightly shut up." A well fortified city - made so to protect itself specifically against the Israelites (Joshua 6:1). Joshua was to advance and claim the city for the Israelites. It is interesting that when he receives the message of victory, it is before they even make their approach to Jericho, and the messenger speaks in past tense "The Lord said to Joshua, "See I have already delivered Jericho into your hands" (Joshua 6:2). From a human perspective, this is unnatural, unscientific, and impossible. From the Lord's perspective - as God who sits across all time and eternity - the reality of the future is as evident as the reality of the past. All Joshua has to do is listen to the Lord, and do as He commands. The Lord doesn't ask Joshua to amass a huge army of fighting men, to strategize his plan of attack, or to gird his loins. Instead, he asks him to march around the outside of Jericho, to encircle the city, blow trumpets, and on the seventh day, to make a loud noise of shouting and trumpet blasts: "And at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city" (Joshua 6:20).
In David's scenario, the giant Goliath, also known as the 'champion' (1 Samuel 17:4), is well prepared with 125 pounds (57 kg) of bronze armour, a spear whose shaft was as long as a weaver's rod and it's tip weighing 15 pounds (7 kg), and a javelin across his back (1 Samuel 17:5-7). David, having already stripped himself of the borrowed armour he set out with, carries only a staff and a slingshot as weapons (1 Samuel 17:38-40). He presents himself to Goliath in response to his beckoning for an adversary. Offended by the disparity in the match, Goliath roars out to David "Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?" (1 Samuel 17:43). David's absence of military or physical might is unrelated to his spiritual might. He responds to the giant with his intention not only to defeat him, but the entire Philistine army: "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord almighty . . . All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord's, and he will give all of you into our hands" (1 Samuel 17:45,47). David downed the giant with a stone to his head, then took Goliath's massive sword and killed him, and took his head as the emblem of victory. The Philistine army turned and ran away (1 Samuel 17:49-51).
The story of King Jehoshaphat holds a similar theme of victory without the fight. The King, desperate for God to intercede, declares before the Lord "O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you" (2 Chron 20:12). After his prayer to God is offered up, a messenger advises the King. "Listen . . . this is what the Lord says to you: Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours but God's. Tomorrow march down against them. . . . You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out and face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you" (2 Chron 20:15-17). Early the next morning, the King leads his people, as the Lord commanded, to take their positions. Interestingly, his final words of instruction to his army are not reinforcing the battle plan, or approach, or counter attacks. His final words of encouragement are "Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful" (2 Chron 20:20). The army advances, being led not by the mightiest frontline warriors, but instead, a choir! "Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying 'Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever'" (2 Chron 20:21). Their praises lead them to victory: "As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated" (2 Chron 20:22).
So what do these three battles, and three leaders, have in common?
In these three historic examples of victory without the fight, all three of the battles were considered humanly impossible to win (1 Samuel 17:11; Joshua 6:1; 2 Chron 20:12). Only God could bring the victory. Looking at the characters of these heros we see several shared traits:
A Hero's Character
These three military heros had these characteristics in common:
They were aware of their human limitations - humble.
They were not bound to what the world says is the path to victory - open-minded.
They did not see the impossibility of the task ahead as an excuse for inaction - hopeful.
They were aware that they needed supernatural intervention - dependent.
They sought the Lord - prayerful.
They understood that if God states the future, then the future is stated - trusting.
They surrendered the outcome to God's will - self-sacrificial.
They did what the Lord asked of them, bizarre as that was - obedient.
They expected the victory - faithful.
They did not see God's involvement as an excuse for inaction - accountable.
They were vocal, and loudly so, about God leading the charge - giving God glory.
In sum, this list of character traits resonates with utter allegiance to God. In each of their battles, as soon as they were aware that God was in control, they stepped into their battle, unafraid and totally reliant on God.
King Jehoshaphat didn't know what lay ahead, but he marched out nonetheless, knowing that God was in control. He didn't know how God would win the battle for him, or when, or what victory even looked like. But he and his army got up early the next day to march out, and when they reached the valley of the Desert of Tekoa he saw for himself what God had done. The battle had already been fought - it was over - the victory was in. All Jehoshaphat did was beseech the Lord, then step into the path, precisely as the Lord directed. Jehoshaphat's story ends with "And the kingdom of Jehoshaphat was at peace, for God had given him rest on every side" (2 Chron 20:30). And that is the real victory - peace, and rest on every side. Amen!
When to fight versus when to let God bring the victory
Our daily battles, while they may pale in comparison to the military battles of the old testament, they are nonetheless real, intense, and sometimes bewilderingly unsurmountable. These battles may be keeping or finding a job, controlling over-spending, battling addictions, anger, relationships with family members or neighbors, loneliness, fear, sadness, depression, anxiety, defacing self-perceptions. Victory over these battles is as important to God as the victories of the old testament.
But for every story of victory awarded without the fight, there is a counterpart of a victory only after a hard, personally involved fight - Christ's death on the cross perhaps being the most intense involvement of self-sacrifice for undoubtedly the most glorious victory that has ever been or will ever be - victory over death. So how can we decree whether God's intention is to fight the battle for us while we take a secondary role and witness His supernatural power, or if His intention is to be alongside us as we step into the frontline for the fight in the strength that He gives us? And how might that impact our approach to the battle that is in front of us right now?
Just because God told King Jehoshaphat that he would fight the battle did not mean that the King could stay in bed the next day. He still got up early in the morning. Their enemies were already slain in the valley. Would they have been slain if the King decided to stay in bed? Who knows? Perhaps the King could have argued back to God 'why are you telling me to get up early if you are fighting the battle for me?' The King did not argue with God. He got up. He marched out. He encouraged his men. They saw the victory. And they praised God for his power, might, and holiness.
Don't let the fear that the battle is bigger than you cripple you - enter in! And don't let the knowledge of God's power and might persuade you to sit back and do nothing - enter in!
Whether you are facing a battle that God will fight on your behalf, or facing a battle where you must play the major role, in either case, both require stepping into the battle.
What battles are a part of your life today? Which one of these is most consuming/worrying?
The bible describes King Jehoshaphat as being"resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all of Judah" (2 Chron 20:4). Make a pact with yourself to be 'resolved' in prayer before God to determine how your victory will come about. If necessary, take your 'resolve' to the next level with a day of fasting. If you are still not sure how God wants you to move in this situation, ask a friend to also pray and fast with you.
Can you honestly determine the difference between God fighting this battle on your behalf as He did for Joshua, Jehoshaphat, and David, versus taking on a significant burden yourself - albeit still under His might and power? What is the difference between these two approaches for this particular battle? At a minimum, if God is leading the victory on your behalf, you still have a role - what does stepping into the battle look like for you when God is fighting for you?
If this is a battle where you carry a significant personal burden in fighting the fight, are you willing to do this not knowing how the battle will play out, but knowing the victory is secured? If the answer is 'No,' or your inaction suggests the reality is 'No,' how might you grow in character on points 2, 3, 7, and 8 of the hero's character above?
Prayer of Jehoshaphat
"O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. . . If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgement, or plague, or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us. . . For we have no power to face this . . . we do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you."
(2 Chron 20:6,9,12)