Credit where credit is due: not all of the thoughts in this post are my own. Special thanks to my friend Josh R. The inspiration for this post came as a result of a sermon that he delivered at our local church.
There came a time when Israel went to do battle with one of their most hated enemies, the Philistines. The Philistines had marched into Jewish territory to do battle, and the armies of Israel quickly responded: “Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle, and were gathered together at Shochoh, which belongeth to Judah, and pitched between Shochoh and Azekah, in Ephesdammim. And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered together, and pitched by the valley of Elah, and set the battle in array against the Philistines” (1 Samuel 17:1-2).
It is important to realize that at this moment each army was unified. Nobody was alone; nobody was in danger of being ambushed with no friend around to help them. Everyone had support; everyone had a brother or fellow-soldier to encourage, defend, and strengthen him; everyone was unified. Safety and strength come in numbers. This is a great lesson for the church. If we are going to do spiritual battle with the evil in this world, unity is necessary.
We are fighting a very unified demonic army. Satan’s kingdom is not divided against itself: “if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?” (Matthew 12:26). It is impractical to think that we as Christians can take on this whole force alone. What we need to do is unify with our fellow-soldiers in the faith. It was to the church–as a unified whole–that Jesus promised, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (16:18).
And we need to realize in whose army we are fighting. The men of Israel were gathered together with Saul, their king. When we go to do battle with the enemy, we are gathering together with Jesus our King. The book of Revelation depicts the time the enemies of God would be destroyed “and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful” (Revelation 17:14). Our leader is Jesus; he is King of kings, he is “the captain of [our] salvation” (Hebrews 2:10), and if we unify under him then victory is sure!
In our story the Philistines knew that the Jews were unified, so they came up with a plan: “And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span….And he stood and cried unto the armies of Israel, and said unto them, Why are ye come out to set your battle in array? am not I a Philistine, and ye servants to Saul? choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me. If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants, and serve us. And the Philistine said, I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together” (1 Samuel 17:4-10).
The Philistines did not want to fight army to army—unified group to unified group. Instead they wanted to fight individual to individual. The enemy was proposing something that was very common in the ancient world: battle by champion. One man would fight on behalf of the whole army.
At this point two observations are noteworthy. First, our enemy is always trying to make us fight on his terms. As Christians, we should not fight on the devil’s terms. We must do war in the Spirit where we are sure to conquer; not in the flesh, in the devil’s domain, where defeat is just as sure. But secondly, and more to the point, Goliath’s offer shattered the unity of the Jewish army. The enemy didn’t want to fight with a group: Goliath said send me “a man”. Before they had been an individual army, but now they were an army of individuals; before they had been an army of one, but now they were an army of ones. Nobody could count on his friend to help him. Each man was his own man. The devil wants to get us alone. He wants us to fight by ourselves. And when we don’t have anyone to help us, when we allow the devil to destroy our unity, we will end up cowering just like the Hebrews did.
God wants his church to be a unified army that destroys the gates of hell. But our enemy is attempting to undermine that unity. If he can get us to be individuals, if he can get us to look at the war as a one-on-one contest of champions, he can make us fear. We are not an army of individuals: we are an individual army unified under Christ. We must refuse to let the devil separate us from our brothers and from our King. We do not fight one-on-one: we fight as one. If we approach the Philistines in our life with this mindset, we will have no reason to fear them.