5 “Then the officers shall speak to the people, saying: ‘What man is there who has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man dedicate it.
6 “‘Also what man is there who has planted a vineyard and has not eaten of it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man eat of it.
7 “‘And what man is there who is betrothed to a woman and has not married her? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man marry her.’
8 “The officers shall speak further to the people, and say, ‘What man is there who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, lest the heart of his brethren faint like his heart.'”
I’ll admit it: I am afraid to die. Not because I am unsure of what will happen after I die, but because I am afraid I will miss a great many wonderful things in this life. Sure, we will all suffer the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” (as Hamlet said), but we also have opportunities to experience many of the blessings available in this life. Yes, this world is broken by sin, but it is also held together by the sovereign will of a loving God. I think He wants us to honor that by sticking around and enjoying the blessings He provides.
In those times when we face battles that seem beyond our strength to fight, it is tempting to retreat to hearth and home, to turn back to the blessings in our lives and avoid conflict. After all, who wants to experience strife and perhaps even die when he or she can live and experience the good things God offers us? The train of thought runs kind of like this:
“The battle is the Lord’s anyway, isn’t it? If He needs someone to fight, He’ll find someone else. He doesn’t need me, does he? He is, after all, the Almighty God. He has blessed me plenty up to now, and I hardly think He needs ME to fight battles I haven’t the strength or knowledge or experience to win.”
In today’s verses from Deuteronomy, Moses is passing along the Word of God to the Israelites concerning those times when they go into battle. If we read just verses 5 through 7, we might think God is allowing for “compassionate leave” for those who have unfinished business at home: If your home hasn’t been dedicated, if you haven’t yet eaten the fruit of a new vineyard, if you haven’t yet married your fiancée, then it’s okay to skip this battle. But verse 8 is the “clincher”:
“The officers shall speak further to the people, and say, ‘What man is there who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, lest the heart of his brethren faint like his heart.'”
The REAL commandment is like this: “If your heart is not wholly for the Lord – and you are worried about your home or your vineyards or your fiancée – if you do not have faith that the Almighty will win this battle for you, then go home and don’t spread your fear and doubt to others.”
Notice that in the preceding verses, the allowance was always “lest he die” – i.e. in case you don’t make it back from this battle. Truly, if we never go into battle, we will NOT die. But if WE never go into battle, then who WILL? If we don’t face the enemies of the chosen people of God, then who will fight for His will and His righteousness?
Any soldier who has ever served in the armed forces knows that he or she must be willing to leave behind home and livelihood and family in order to stand on the front lines and DEFEND home and livelihood and family. The battle for God’s kingdom demands no less:
34 When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
35 “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.
36 “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”
What would it profit any of us if we stayed behind to take care of our families, and then found that our families were taken from us because of the battle we avoided in the first place? The souls of our loved ones are at stake if we avoid the very real spiritual and moral battles that take place every day around us. And every time we ourselves avoid a moral battle in favor of being “accepting” or “politically correct” or “tolerant,” we encourage others to do so. Very soon, then, there will be no one on the front lines of the battle, and God’s Word and His clear commandments will be forgotten. Our homes and our “vineyards” and our families will be overrun with weeds and rot, and we will wish – too late – that we had stayed on the front lines.
As we face real moral and spiritual battles in our lives, we should know this:
3 “And he shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel: Today you are on the verge of battle with your enemies. Do not let your heart faint, do not be afraid, and do not tremble or be terrified because of them;
4 “‘for the LORD your God is He who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.'”
Lord God Almighty, we trust in You to save us from our enemies. You alone speak in righteousness. You alone are mighty to save us from our enemies. Give us pure hearts for You, Lord, so we can stand boldly for You, strengthened by Your Holy Spirit, ready to lose all we have in this world to fight for Your will and Your way. Amen.