“Be of good courage, and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God: and the LORD do that which seemeth Him good.”
The Syrians and Ammonites had gathered together to attack Israel. King David sent Joab and the army to take up the battle. When he got to the place, Joab discovered that it was a two-front war. So, he sent his brother, Abishai, with some of the army of Israel against the Ammonites, and Joab and the rest of the army went against the Syrians. Joab told Abishai that if the battle was too much for his army, he would come to help. And, if the battle proved too much for Joab, Abishai should bring his army to help Joab. Before taking up their battles, Joab gave his brother the encouragement recorded in the verse above.
The first part of what Joab said was words of courage and boldness in the effort. They were on the battlefield for the sake of the people of Israel. The security and safety of their country and its people were why they were soldiers. They were to take up the battle for their people’s sake. Also, they had a further mandate in that the cities of their country were the cities of God. The second part of what Joab said spoke to this aspect. Scripture has many references to the fact that the land of Israel is the LORD’s land, and the inhabitants are His people. The battle they had before them was in the service of God. They were to take up the battle for His sake, and in trust on Him. These were the things of which Joab reminded Abishai as they went to the battle.
This battle was between earthly armies, but Israel had an advantage. God was on their side. In the end the Israelites won because of this simple fact. Joab’s words showed that he considered this in his planning. While he and Abishai made plans, ultimately in Joab’s mind it came down to what God would determine to do: “…and the LORD do that which seemeth Him good.” Their success ultimately rested on this. As the story went, the moment Joab and Abishai went out to take on their enemies, the armies of the Syrians and the Ammonites fled from Israel. They had hardly begun to fight, and the fight was over.
In the human realm, the deciding factor in battles is which combatant has the biggest army, or is the best armed, or who has the best strategy. Countries don’t usually take up battles against more powerful neighbors. In the spiritual realm, we humans are greatly out matched. From before the battle starts there is no hope of success in it. This is because, at their weakest, spiritual creatures, whether friend or foe, are more mighty than we. Also to their advantage is we cannot see them. We are incapable of discerning spiritual things.
To illustrate, in 2 Kings 6:15-17 we read, “And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do? And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” Though surrounded by earthly armies, Elisha was safe because of the armies of God that surrounded the earthly armies.
What was true with Joab and Abishai in their physical battle is true in spiritual battles; “…and the LORD do that which seemeth Him good.” They needed to depend on God in their battle, and we must depend on Him in ours. God’s Word calls Christians to various tasks, and each of them is part of a spiritual battle. As Ephesians 6:12 puts it, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” We are in a battle that has eternal implications. As Elisha said, “…they that be with us are more than they that be with them…” As Proverbs 21:31 says, “The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the LORD.” As Paul told the Romans, “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” And we know that in the end, God will triumph!
If God had not been on our side
And had not come to aid us,
The foes with all their power and pride
Would surely have dismayed us;
For we, His flock, would have to fear
The threat of men both far and near
Who rise in might against us.
Their furious wrath, did God permit,
Would surely have consumed us
And as a deep and yawning pit
With life and limb entombed us.
Like men o’er whom dark waters roll
Their wrath would have engulfed our soul
And, like a flood, o’erwhelmed us.
Blest be the Lord, who foiled their threat
That they could not devour us;
Our souls, like birds, escaped their net,
They could not overpower us.
The snare is broken—we are free!
Our help is ever, Lord, in Thee,
Who madest earth and Heaven. (Martin Luther)