Jump Start # 2221
Deuteronomy 20:8 “Then the officers shall speak further to the people and say, ‘Who is afraid and fainthearted? Let him depart and return to his house, so that he might not make his brothers’ hearts melt like his heart.’”
Our verse today comes from the battle plan that Israel was to follow. They were going to be outnumbered and have fewer horses and chariots, but they would have the Lord. The Lord was fighting for Israel. They were to offer terms of peace before engaging in battle. If peace was not an option, they were to go in with full force and slaughter all the males. Women, children, and spoils would all belong to Israel.
There were a series of four exemptions that would allow a man to go home and not fight. These were:
- Having a new home that was not dedicated
- Having a new vineyard which was not harvested
- Being engaged
- Being afraid
Our verse today, focuses upon that last exemption, being afraid. Notice somethings about this:
First, God recognized that it is easier to discourage than it is to encourage. Those afraid were sent home. They were sent home so they would not spread fear among the rest of the troops. God did not say, place the scared along side of the bravest and perhaps he will find courage and be strong. No. God said, send those afraid home.
In the N.T. the fainthearted were to be encouraged. But we see what can happen from discouragement. One complainer. One sour grape. One bitter soul. That’s all it takes to turn the tide of everyone else. Everyone can be content and doing fine until they start listening to that one person who has little faith. One by one, everyone else begins to have doubts and fears. Before long, the whole place lacks faith and a dark cloud of gloom and doom prevails.
God’s solution was to isolate those who were afraid from the soldiers who were going to fight. Send the scared home.
Second, God saw the need to take care of the whole by sending the scared home. There are times that we so focus upon the one, that we overlook the whole. In the area of discipline Paul told the Corinthians that a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Undisciplined, sin in the camp, spreading gossip and rumors, fear running rampant, can change an entire army or an entire congregation.
We understand the principle of leaving the 99 sheep and looking for the one lost sheep. However, we often do not understand the reverse of that principle. That one heartless sheep can destroy the spirit of the entire flock. So often elders pour all of their energy and effort into trying to get a few members to make up their minds if they want to be Christians or not, and in so doing, the rest of the flock loses momentum, direction and vision. Those that want to march to Zion need to be led. Those who can’t make up their mind if they want to be worldly or Christians, need to own their faith and make a commitment. There are times when we baby adults too much. We need to help the weak and encourage the fainthearted, but there are times we must realize that they are old enough to be married, hold a job and pay a mortgage, they ought to be able to decide whether or not they want to walk with the Lord. We hold up progress waiting on those who are flirting with the world and are not serious about their faith. Prayers, studies, conversations are all necessary, but after a while, it’s time to think about the flock and move on with the Lord.
Those scared soldiers were sent home.
Third, God didn’t wait for the scared to become brave. They were sent home. They were not sent to a special camp to learn to be brave. They weren’t sent home with handful of pamphlets to read. They weren’t sent to counselors. They were sent home. I expect this was somewhat embarrassing. Others went home, but they had reasons. Bought a new house, have a new vineyard, engaged—and the reason they were sent home is in case they were killed in battle, someone else would enjoy that new house, harvest or marry his girl friend. Israel marched on in battle and the scared went home. God promised to be with them. The battle would be the Lord’s. Yet, the reality of war was that some of Israel would die. There was going to be bloodshed. Not everyone was going to make it home alive. The priests were to proclaim, “Do not be fainthearted. Do not be afraid, or panic, or tremble before the enemy.” Yet, with those words, some would be afraid. God did not force those who were scared to fight. He did not put off the battles waiting for the fearful to find courage. He sent them home and Israel marched onward in battle against their enemies.
Home, safe, while his brothers were fighting the enemy. You can imagine the hard time dealing with this. “Why are you here and not in the battle with the others? You didn’t buy a new home. You don’t have a vineyard. You are not engaged. You should be fighting. Why did you come home?” And, the only answer was, “I am afraid.” And, all these centuries later, we can hear what the reply would be. “Afraid? Don’t you think the others are scared? Where’s your faith? Don’t you believe God?” And, with that the scared soldier would hang his head and close the door to his house and probably cry. It would take a long time to get rid of that label of being scared.
Fear will keep us from speaking out. Fear will make us avoid the tough conversations that ought to take place. Fear ought to keep one from serving as one of God’s shepherds. It takes courage and backbone to lead. The fearful follow, and usually at a distance. Leaders lead. Fear keeps us at home. Fear will only do what seems to be safe. Fear will cause a person to blend in rather than stand out. Fear will not challenge others. Fear hides.
Finally, we need to recognize the wisdom of God in putting distance between the faithful and the faithless. I wonder if we get this. We hang around friends and they do not lift our spirits. They do not strengthen our hearts. We are weaker because of that. Because someone is in the family, we give them a pass to be a discouragement in our lives. They complain. They gripe. They say ugly things about the church. We sit among them and too often encourage such talk. We need to put some distance between those who are not with God and those who are. It’s always easier to go down hill that it is up hill. That’s true when you are walking, riding a bike or spiritually. The fearful were sent home. Today, the fearful are invited to our homes. And, when they leave, we too, have become discouraged and our hearts have melted. Why do we do this? Because they are friends? Because they are family? Send the faithless home. Surround yourself with spiritual giants. You need believers in your life. You need folks who trust in the Lord and want to follow His ways.
Go home, you are afraid. Most armies have not followed the rule of sending the scared home. Sometimes the fearful run and when they are caught they are jailed for desertion. I think about men like my dad, fresh out of high school and off he went to places he never heard of before to fight in what we now call a world war. Fear was there, but so was patriotism, honor and doing the right thing. Going home was not an option, not until the job was finished.
May we all find that faith in the Lord to stand, speak and be courageous. When the call of battle sounds, may we fight the good fight and finish the course. Go home because you are afraid is a terrible message. Where is your faith? Where is your heart?
We will not go home until the job is finished!