A NAZI SCENE
A German officer had just buttoned his tunic, drawn up his collar to ward off the lingering cool of the morning, and headed for his regular inspection of the bunker overlooking the beach in Normandy. It was June 6, 1944. Hitler's "fortress Europe" was secure behind massive coastal fortification extending from north to south along the western margin of the occupied nations. The Germans were certain that the Allied forces would eventually launch an all-out attack. But Nazi defenses were so formidable that Hitler's leaders were convinced such an attempted invasion would be repulsed.
The officer stepped over to the concrete slot overlooking the English Channel. The slate grey surface was empty. He reached for the binoculars and slowly swept the horizon. It was a routine he had begun many months before. He saw the same sight this day that he had beheld all those previous days - vast reaches of uninviting sea, and not a single ship.
A SUDDEN IMPULSE - HE KNEW THE MEANING
As he turned to leave the bunker he had a sudden impulse. Walking once again to the slot, he picked up the binoculars and began a visual scan. What met his eyes was too incredible to believe! As far as he could see, from north to south, was a wall of masts and funnels. The mightiest armada of ships ever enmassed was ploughing toward him through the morning mists! It was D-Day. The invasion had come!!
The startled officer did not know the statistical dimensions of what he was seeing at that moment. But he knew the meaning. After the war he admitted, "As soon as I saw it, I said to myself, 'Germany, you are finished.'"
Over four thousand ships were in the fleet which hurled itself against Naziism that fateful summer morning. Either hundred guns bombarded the German defenses. Ten thousand planes took to the air to support the invaders. And two million, two hundred thousand Allied troops eventually landed on German-held territory.
YOU ARE FINISHED!
But, long before a shot had been fired or a drop of Aryan blood spilt, the colonel in the bunker had come to the correct conclusion, "Germany, you are finished."
NOT A NEW THING! THE STORY OF AHAB
There is a striking story in I Kings, chapter twenty, which has all the pathos of the episode in the Normandy bunker. It begins this way: "Benhadad, the king of Syria, gathered all his host together; and there were thirty and two kings with him, and horses, and chariots: and he went up and besieged Samaria, and warred against it."
I suspect that Ahab, king of Israel, sitting within his fortified city of Samaria, felt a great deal like his German counterpart many centuries later. Surely, in his heart, he must have been certain that "Israel is finished."
It is interesting to trace the story, and observe the parallels between the Syrian confrontation and God's siege of human personalities.
THE KING CONFRONTS
Samaria was a walled city. In the heart of it was a walled palace. In the palace was a throne room. Sitting upon that throne, encircled by guards, was Ahab the king.
Surrounding that fortified town were the armies of Benhadad, threatening to starve the Israelites into submission, or, failing to do that, crush them by massive attack.
SELF-JUSTIFICATION, AND NON-COMMUNICATION
It is not exaggeration to assert that people are a great deal like walled cities. It is particularly true that in our pseudo-sophisticated American culture we have become adept at throwing protective barriers around ourselves to become as invulnerable as possible. Before we are very old we have skillfully constructed self-preservers extending all around us. Self-justification is one solid wall. Noncommunication is another, and religious pretense is a very popular barrier frequently employed. Hollow smiles and forced niceties fill in the gaps which self-justification won't quite cover.
We have gone to great effort to keep from being discovered for what we really are. Such unmasking is intolerable, and poses a great threat to our most cherished possession - our independence.
THE PERNICIOUS HABIT OF FORTIFICATION
Because of this pernicious habit of fortification, God finds it necessary to confront us, to lay siege to us, in much the same way Benhadad confronted Samaria. And God has laid so many sieges against so many adamant personalities that He has become very expert at it. When we read, "God resists the proud," the literal translation is, "God sets himself in array against the proud." This is military jargon. This is siege language. The picture James conjures up for us is that of a vast array of heavenly armies, poised directly before a rebellious mortal, prepared to attack.
The amazing thing to me is that puny humans have the undying audacity to stick out their chests and defy Deity, when one moment's reflection would convince them that resistance is useless. Have you ever observed a group of scurrying ants in the sand, and meditated upon how simply it would be for you to lift up one of your number nines and bring it down upon them? One simple act and you would have obliterated scores of them together with all their uncles and cousins. There is no way in the world whereby Mr. Tough Ant could ward off your descending blow once you had determined to deliver it. And yet this same kind of futile effort is being repeated multiplied thousands of times by the supposedly intelligent people of this world.
CHRISTIANS ARE NO EXCEPTION TO THIS HABIT!
Even Christians makes the effort:"Look, God, I want to go to heaven when I die. But I don't want you taking over my finances. I've got plans. I've got things to buy - improvements to make - investments.""Sure, I love Christ. But my love life is my own - I don't want God taking all the fun out of that.""Be a missionary? I've got interests in electronics. I'm not gonna blow my talent in some obscure corner of Africa."
GOD IS THE KING OF THIS UNIVERSE!
God is king of the whole universe. In His vast domain there is only one rebel planet. It is like a grain of sand on an almost endless beach. A minute orb in an almost infinite expanse of other worlds. Each inhabitant of this inconsequentially sized ball of dirt shares it with over three billion other tiny humans like himself. It is rather ridiculous then for a mere man to offer resistance to an infinite God! The very realization of His enormous power should itself cause us to buckle and to make the full surrender which reason demands. Unfortunately, it does not often work that way.
The second thing observable in the story makes it eminently practical. The king not only confronts -
THE KING CLAIMS!
The account says, "He [Benhadad] sent messengers to Ahab king of Israel into the city, and said unto him, Thus saith Benhadad, Thy silver and thy gold is mine; thy wives also and thy children, even the goodliest, are mine" (1 Kings 20:2, 3).
This is the first phase of any invasion. It is one thing to have the threatening presence of an enemy outside the gates. That is grim enough. But it is still more shattering to experience the intimate presence of the enemy barging into the privacy of one's own domain.
It is interesting to note that the king himself does not appear. He made his incursion in the persons of designated servants. They stalked in, strode up to the throne and delivered their message to a very nervous Hebrew king."The silver and the gold is mine!"
Ahab winced."Thy wives also are mine!"
Ouch! That's almost as bad as the demand about the money."Thy children also, even the ones you love most dearly."
Oh, that is rough!
Observe. Benhadad did not say, "I want everything to be mine." We went much farther. He said, "Everything IS mine."
Again, there are pungent parallels here between the approach of Benhadad and that of God.
HIS CLAIM COMES THROUGH HIS MESSENGERS!
The revelation of His claims comes through His messengers:
- Our reasoning powers are the first messengers used. Anyone who is in his right mind knows that he is God's property.
- Our consciences then add their "Amens" to what our reason already affirms.
- Then the Bible pushes God's claims in unmistakable fashion.
- Finally, we get the message from fellow-believers.
THE EXTENT OF HIS CLAIMS!
How about the extent of His claims?
Well, Benhadad began with the seat of the problem - the wallet. Then, the wife. And finally, the waifs. These encompass just about everything which can be important to a man.
It is much the same with God. His rights over an individual life extend from personal possessions to spouse to children.
The basic assumption with God is that nothing belongs to us privately. Everything is, in the last analysis, His. This assumption strikes a terrible blow to the human ego because it jerks from under us the basis for most of our former life - our own personal sovereignty.
The essence of sacrifice is a surrender of one's right to govern his own life. That is what really counts. That is the surrender that permits the "Divine Invader" into the very palace and right up the throne of our individualism.
I have known people who have deserted homes, loved ones, and good paying jobs for God. They have tramped the countryside with shoes holier than most saints and will march to their rewards in proud poverty. But some of those same dear people have taken great pains not to divest themselves of themselves.
It is difficult to part with hard-earned money. It is hard to leave a beloved home. It is a strain to face a life of wall-to-wall poverty. But harder than all these is permitting God to blast our egos to smithereens and relinquish our well-beloved independence.
Many Christians acknowledge God's rights on a kind of installment basis. One trip to the altar to leave temper. Another to promise to pay the back tithes owed. Still another to resolve obedience in their prayer life. A fourth to say a grudging "yes" to the possibility of going into full-time service. All these transactions are good. All lead to a measure of relief. But none of them can be substitutes for meeting the real issues - removing you from the place of control in your life.
WHAT ABOUT THE FITNESS OF HIS CLAIMS?
In the case of Benhadad, I'm sure he did not really own all that he claimed. But, in the case of God there can be no doubt. What He made and paid for, He owns. And He made and paid for all of us.
The response to His claims is the crux of the entire subject. It is illustrated for us in the story of Ahab and Benhadad. Confronted by the all-encompassing demands of the invader, the Jewish monarch made a statement which has in it all that is necessary to express what God expects of every man. "My lord, O king, according to thy saying, I am thine, and all that I have."
I recently read a statement by C. S. Lewis that summarizes the same truth: "Christ says, 'Give me all. I don't want so much of your money or so much of your time or so much of your work. I want you! I don't want to cut off a branch here, or cut off a branch there. Hand over your whole self.' "
This, however, is not the end of the matter. There is more.
THE KING COLLECTS ON HIS CLAIMS
The messengers came again and said, "Thus saith Benhadad, saying, Although I have sent unto thee, saying, Thou shalt deliver me thy silver, and thy gold, and thy wives, and thy children; yet I will send my servants to thee tomorrow about this time, and they shall search thy house…that whosoever is pleasant in thine eyes, they shall…take away."
Can you picture the line of empty wagons winding in through the gate of Samaria the following day? Apparently Ahab could. And he rebelled at the prospect. So, he called some cronies and complained bitterly that Benhadad had taken his commitment so seriously that he was actually going to come and collect on what he had claimed.
God always collects on commitments. It won't do to be theoretical about surrender. If you have ever said to God, "I am thine, and all that I have," you can be certain He will be sending messengers to lay hold on you and your goods. If you really meant it, expect to be called upon to relinquish what you have promised. Next Sunday the pastor may speak about the need for more Sunday school teachers. Then remember the time you told God, "I am thine." The Sunday after that he might mention the need for more money for God's cause. Then recall your words "all that I have."
The difficulty is that so often people find it relatively easy to go to God privately and make sweeping verbal vows but they balk when God demands a follow-through. In other words, there are many folks around who no longer question the legitimacy of God's claims, but they strongly resist His collections.
Are you one of them?
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