TODAY’S READING: 2 Samuel 10; 1 Chronicles 19; Psalm 20
Much damage occurs when we don’t assume the best, whether in a toneless email or a diplomatic mission. David out of kindness sent a delegation across the river to Ammon (Amman, Jordan today) to mourn the passing of a friend. The new regime assumed the worst and it led to war. The new king of Ammon departed from his father’s kindness moving beyond just being guarded to being insulting. He first misunderstood. Then he exacerbated the situation with his reaction—shaming the delegation by cutting off their beards and clothes. A beard to the Israelites of David’s day was a sign of status; it represented maturity, dignity, and wisdom. To dishonor David’s representatives was to dishonor David, and it led to needless war. Countless is the waste by missionaries, ministers, and followers of Jesus because we first assumed the worst and then reacted poorly, shaming the other through our dishonor. Of course, the great shame in internecine fighting is that the real battles for the glory of Jesus among all peoples are hindered, or even abandoned.
When we diligently do not allow ourselves to be offended—by always assuming the best, always honoring the other, always treating the other how we want to be treated, always deescalating tension (pouring water, not gas, on any flame)—we can concentrate on the valid battle, which usually needs our full attention as the odds are against us. With 3.15 billion people around the world collected in 7,000 unreached people groups with no clear exposure to the gospel, we have enough to do without fighting ourselves. Joab surveyed the landscape and saw “the battle line was against him before and behind” (2 Sam. 10:9), so he responded by choosing some of Israel’s best and putting them on the frontlines. There is a disturbing trend in missionary appointment, and that is the sending of amateurs. The deterioration of our sending cultures, as we descend into secular darkness, leads us as a collective to panic and to ask our best Paul and Barnabas to stay in the home church of Antioch and to send to Cyprus and Asia Minor only our young ministers that won’t hurt us too badly if they left. How antithetical to the spirit of Acts 13 which was in turn the spirit of the Father who sent His Son, His only Son, His very best. With the size and scope of the task that remains before us globally concerning mission, we too must send our very best seasoned warriors to the front. Just as we must assume the best in communication, we must send the best in conflict.
Our reading today details that the Syrians and Ammonites arranged themselves in battle array before the gates of the city (1 Chr. 19:9). Cities were fortified by stone walls with gates that were largely made of wood. The gate then was the most vulnerable part of the defenses, the most heavily defended, and the most complicated. Some gates were set at right angles to the city walls so that attackers had to not only penetrate the gate, but then in close quarters turn a sharp corner to face defenders before them in narrow spaces, giving the defender the advantage. These gates were designed to have defenders raining projectiles down on the heads of the attackers from open space above. Often, this outer gate led to a main gate with four such successive chambers. If we are going to win the nations to Jesus, we are going to have to take the gates. We can be encouraged that where the heaviest defense is, the greatest vulnerability is also. All too often missionary strategy avoids the apparently most difficult and dangerous places, but that is where we must fight, for the massed opposition is actually the indication of the access point to that culture and people group. We must focus our best where the enemy is strongest, for behind that resistance lies the path to the heart of the culture and people.
The missionary spirit is to be un-offendable with one other, un-divertible from where the darkness is deepest and the battle fiercest, and unshakable in the source of our help. We sing the psalm with the host of warriors who have gone before us: “May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble…may He send you help from the sanctuary, and strengthen you out of Zion…and in the name of our God we will set up our banners… Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:1–2, 5, 7). We go to war against impossible odds. We go to win 3.15 billion unreached to Jesus from Iraq and elsewhere, for the honor of the king staying “strong for our people and the cities of our God. And may the Lord do what is good [and right] in His sight” (1 Chr. 19:13).