My second talk from the 2010 Bulgarian Worldview Conference. A Sermon on 1 Kings 22:29–36:
So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah went up to Ramothgilead. And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, I will disguise myself, and enter into the battle; but put thou on thy robes. And the king of Israel disguised himself, and went into the battle. But the king of Syria commanded his thirty and two captains that had rule over his chariots, saying, Fight neither with small nor great, save only with the king of Israel. And it came to pass, when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, that they said, Surely it is the king of Israel. And they turned aside to fight against him: and Jehoshaphat cried out. And it came to pass, when the captains of the chariots perceived that it was not the king of Israel, that they turned back from pursuing him. And a certain man drew a bow at a venture, and smote the king of Israel between the joints of the harness: wherefore he said unto the driver of his chariot, Turn thine hand, and carry me out of the host; for I am wounded. And the battle increased that day: and the king was stayed up in his chariot against the Syrians, and died at even: and the blood ran out of the wound into the midst of the chariot. And there went a proclamation throughout the host about the going down of the sun, saying, Every man to his city, and every man to his own country.
The most remarkable aspect of this story is that the text goes out of its way to add the phrase at random (“at a venture” KJV). He was not a general or a commander, just a common soldier; he was not a heroic figure, not a champion of the army, not a goliath, not a decorated veteran; nothing special, he was an average man. When the army was not at war, he was a weaver, a fisherman, a shepherd, a merchant, a medic, a carpenter, a chariot repairman, and public servant; he was a neighbor, a patron of restaurants and an occasional tavern, a husband, a parent. But nothing, apparently, of outstanding notice. He was just the kind of man that God selects and uses: every-day people like the disciples (fishermen, etc.), like the shepherds in the fields, like the women at the tomb, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus whom Christ visited personally to enlighten with all the Scriptures have to say of Him.
We could make a long list of these people throughout the Bible. God does not need big important people, in fact, God specializes in using the little Davids, and the servant women and the common men. In fact, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 1:26, points this fact out to the Corinthian Christians—a group that had been ripped apart by division and argument mostly stemming from who had the best education or who was the most spiritual. And Paul says, look at yourselves: For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.
This is so characteristic of God that were it not for the fact that we cannot predict God’s decretive will for the future, we might be tempted to say it’s a Biblical principle: God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5), and therefore He selects the common, the plain, the natural, to accomplish His uncommon, awesome, and supernatural feats. Sure enough, when it came to that feat of all feats, God sent his own Son as a common, non-descript, average man. As Isaiah prophesied, And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. (Isa. 53:1–2). That was our Savior, that was the Savior of mankind, and Creator of the universe. They say the Lord works in mysterious ways; Indeed, so mysterious that they’re right before our very eyes, right in the midst of the same battles with us—in the same pews, in the same grocery stores—and we can’t recognize them for their plainness.
This is a very convicting element of our faith if you think about it. It would be so easy for most of us if God just chose the really great men. If all the work was done by big personalities and heroes that we all looked up to, then we could sit back and pretty much relax. That’s the kind of Christianity that so many Christians imagine: the preachers and the leaders are God’s paid professional holy men who accomplish the work of the kingdom so everyone else can do whatever else they want to do. It would be a tremendous burden off the common man if God only chose the bold and the beautiful, but He doesn’t. He has this annoying habit of choosing the timid and plain (and honestly, He often chooses the stuttering and the ugly).
Which is a very convicting fact, because it puts a certain expectation on every Christian person to get involved. Any one of us could be that unknown assassin in God’s army. Each one of us, common people, is called to fight in the battle like that unnamed soldier, faithfully, steadily using the little skills that God has given us; using the little weapons that God has given us; and under God’s guidance, the little arrows of cultural influence and spiritual urging that we wield—little—He directs to His purposes, He magnifies to great power, and He makes accomplish His goals.
The text does not name the soldier, just a certain man. He doesn’t have a title, a rank, a characteristic, or a name. And there’s a good reason for that: the text does not name the certain man because man will not get the glory. God had prophesied through Elijah and Micaiah that, in this particular battle, Israel would suffer defeat and wicked king Ahab would die. It was the word of the Lord, it was God’s plan, not man’s. And it was fitting that the wicked Ahab, of whom the Bible says there was none like him who sold himself to do evil (who studied evil, and determined to do evil—1 Kings 21:25), who attempted in everything he did to thwart God’s word, should suffer execution in such a way that only God could get the credit.
So we have a common man, and an unnamed man, and also man who was acting at random. It’s important to say what is not meant by this: I do not mean to imply that we act with no purpose, or that we do not plan at all, or anything that would indicate a lack of responsibility on our part. What it does mean is that the man was simply doing his job, the job he was always trained to do, and he was doing it in a faithful way. The point is that he had no particular battle plans of his own, no particular aim for that particular arrow, but just generally fired his bow into what was probably an enormous mix of battling horsemen and footmen. There was probably a good chance the arrow would hit something, but very little chance if any that the man could have singled out king Ahab if he would have been trying.
The miracle here is in the random nature of the event, in the man’s inability to predict and his unconsciousness of what he actually did. God often does His best work when we are not conscious of it; because when we try to take control of the efforts, we mess it up. We add our sinful personalities and dysfunctions into the program. I have preached many a sermon which I thought it was so great, only to have somebody come up afterward and say how great it was that I had said this or that, or that I’d made this point or that point, and the thing that blessed them most would be some unrelated tangential aspect of what I was talking about—sometimes something I didn’t even say. And it would be easy for me to say, Aww they just weren’t listening, or blame that person somehow, but the truth is more likely that God was using my words and my actions without using my intentions and my purposes. Because God is provident. He accomplishes his purposes quietly, secretly, wisely through the secondary causes of His people. Because God is the one who directs the arrows. We are called to show up to the battle and get involved, to bring ourselves as a reasonable sacrifice; but the battle is the Lord’s, the battle plans are laid out by the Lord, and the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but spiritual—not aimed and directed by human hands—but God controls the outcome.
God is indeed provident over, above, and through all the affairs of man. We are merely privileged to be used and to witness the work of God in history. But whatever we do, whatever we think we have control of, whatever influence we think we might have, it is held in check, turned, diverted, and directed by the hand of the God of history. In fact, I don’t even think that this certain man was ever seen. So subtle does God work that he can bring the most striking of prophecies to pass (the execution of a king) with a silent arrow that came out of nowhere. So profoundly does God work that he can use an unknown soldier from an enemy army to bring judgment on His enemies within the Church.
We should elaborate on Ahab. We have already noted how wicked he was, let us note now how devious. When the battle ensued both kings of Israel and Judah joined in—both Ahab and Jehoshaphat. They had both previously sat together and listened to the prophecies of four hundred prophets over against the one prophet Micaiah. The four hundred told the kings what they wanted to hear: go into battle against the Syrians, God is with you, you will win. But Micaiah had a special message. Not only did he say that Israel would end up like sheep without a shepherd, but he explained that the four hundred had been led to lie to Ahab so that the king would follow the lie he wanted to hear.
Now this is one of the most notorious passages of Scripture, and we won’t cover that tough issue right now, and I’m afraid that so much has been made of this passage that less attention gets paid to the issues I am talking about. Through this story about the lying prophets, God essentially tells Ahab that the king’s own willingness to have his way would turn out to his destruction. God is performing a spiritual dissection on Ahab, warning him that the king would willingly deceive himself into believing the prophets he wanted to hear, and then running forward into his own slaughter. Governments do this all the time, and we are seeing, as I have said, the impending failures of their promises all across the world and here in Europe.
And the story reveals that the king knew which prophet was telling the truth. When the two kings entered the battle, Ahab told Jehoshaphat to keep his kingly robes on, while he himself disguised himself as a common soldier and entered the fray. This was intended, no doubt, to have the appearance of bravery: here was great king Ahab shedding his robes of privilege in order to fight side-by-side with the common guys. But in reality we know he was hoping that he would not be recognized as the king due to his attire, and thus avoid being a clear target. And furthermore, since Jehoshaphat was still in kingly attire, Ahab hoped that the other king would draw the fire. It was about as devious a move as anyone could make. Ahab had a decoy and a disguise as he went into battle which can only mean one thing: he was hedging his position against the prophecy of Micaiah. He secretly feared that he would die in the battle.
And for all of his scheming and hiding and running, he couldn’t hide from God. And he should have know this: the very chapter before this we find Ahab and Jezebel creating a very elaborate and devious scheme to set-up Naboth so that they can execute him on false pretenses and then confiscate his vineyard that Ahab coveted. And in his very first journey to his new piece of ground the wicked king Ahab was met in the vineyard by the prophet Elijah. God had witnessed the entire event, and yet Ahab was spiritually foolish enough to play dumb. Ahab said to Elijah, Have you found me, O my enemy? (1 Kings 21:20). He was implying that Elijah was the bad guy and had sought him out for something. But Elijah answered, I have found you because you have sold yourself to do evil in the sight of the Lord. God knew Ahab. You can’t hide from God. But Ahab here illustrates the depths of human depravity: that the heart or even in practice we can commit the greatest most elaborate of sins, and when confronted, that devious heart hopes against hope that it has gotten away with it.
But friends, God not only directs the arrows, but God’s arrows always find His targets. While that unknown assassin could have never found Ahab if he tried, God knew exactly where the wicked king was at every second of the battle. He finds his targets, and God never misses: whom He wills He defeats. The text in question tells us that the arrow struck the disguised king in a joint of the armor (1 Kings 22:34). It was random enough that this unaimed, unpurposed arrow struck the king, but it also struck him in one of the few and small weak spots in the joint of his armor. No matter how well we hide, or how well defensed we think the enemy is, God’s arrows find that weak spot, and they drive right where it counts.
And when God’s arrows find their targets, and they seek out that weak spot, they always perform God’s will. Hebrews 4:12 is that famous passage where we are told the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. God is control, He will bring His will to pass, He will defeat his enemies.
It is all Him and nothing of us. And yet, God works quietly through us. He worked through a certain man. And that certain man had the bravery to enter into a battle. And that certain man drew his bow. And that certain man launched his arrow. And just think of the huge amount of preparation that went into this single event. Here was an average man who served in the army. He had to train. He had to learn all the finer points of archery. He had to select his arrows for his quiver. He had to practice and practice, and fail, and learn again, and improve. He had to enter into harm’s way. He needed well-honed skill, and he needed bravery. God has called us into a spiritual, mental, and physical war with his enemies (and his enemies, by the way, reside out there in the world, out in the spiritual realm, and here in the “old man” of our own sinful desires—they are all over). And He has called us into this battle with the promise and the precedent that He is in control, He directs the arrows, and His enemies will fall. But this does not mean we have a spectator seat in the arena. We are called to bravery, to skill, and to faithful execution of our duties in this battle.
Imagine the vantage point that a common soldier would have in one of those ancient battles. You’re surrounded by armed men and horses all around. You couldn’t see anything except chaos and bloodshed. Imagine the bravery, imagine the fortitude, imagine the faith one would need. That perspective would be very similar to a Christian in today’s culture war. No matter where we look we seem to be surrounded by some giant specter, or by some swarming hoard of unchristian and anti-Christian forces. From the vantage point of a single Christian, no matter how much we’ve practiced, honed our skills, or been experienced in the Lord’s work, it can seem fearful. And yet we have God’s promise that faithful preparation, faithful battle, and God will direct the arrows. It may not occur where we intend to aim, it may not happen when and where we intend to aim, but God will direct the arrows, and God will defeat his enemies.
Two things deserve mention at this point. The idea of marksmanship is inherent in the Biblical language about sin. Hamartano is the Greek word most often translated “to sin,” and it most literally means “not to hit,” or “to miss.” Obedience to God is the key to our skill in battle. We must follow His laws if we wish to have any victory at all.
It is also very interesting to me that God goes to the arrow metaphor for the subject of children. He says, Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them (Ps. 127:3–5). The training of a new generation to serve and work for God is portrayed in terms of an offensive weapon, and the more ammo you have the better. Reformation begins in the bedroom, having Christian babies, and then raising them as faithful covenantal Christians devoted to the prosperity and freedom that come through God’s law.
A certain man had six children in his quiver, and they grew up serving the Lord, and he sent them out at random, and they started business and loved and served their neighbors; and through their faithfulness to the Lord they found the weak spots in their local community and ran the enemy out of business. This is not a fairy tale, this is how it works. This is how Reformation spreads: through faithfulness to God applied consistently, relentlessly to the whole life and commerce of the family and the individual.
Let me speak of a couple instances where such “aimless” dedication led to monumental Reformation:
Two Means Towards Reformation from Scripture and History
One: Individual Effort
Perhaps the greatest impact for all of the Reformation came in the work of a man who had no training at all in divinity or theology, who wrote nothing as far as we know, and made no contribution to the theological debates. His monumental contribution was purely material. The man was Johannes Gutenburg. His advance was the invention of the printing press.
By Luther’s time, at least 3 to 4 percent of the population could read. While that doesn’t sound like much, it was enough when one person could read out loud to a room full, and especially when the nobles and people whose estates and money were at stake were the first to be educated to read. Luther wrote his 95 Theses in Latin for debate among his fellow clergy, but he translated the Bible into German, and he wrote several tracts and pamphlets in German, and the people read and heard them all. The tracts got copied, and copied, and copied, etc. “More books were printed in the forty years between 1460 and 1500 than had been produced by scribes and monks throughout the entire Middle Ages.” By Luther’s time there were printing presses in sixty-two cities in Germany alone. In the mere three years between the posting of the Theses in 1517 and 1520, Luther wrote thirty tracts which printers turned out into 300,000 copies. The printing press was the internet of the day, getting vital information and new ideas about Christian freedom and responsibility out to millions of people globally.
And this was accomplished, not because someone decided to increase his quiet time by ten minutes in the morning; not because he figured out that a good way to reach people was through building a youth center with a rock climbing wall and Play Station 3s and built-in Starbucks; but through genuine business entrepreneurship. Gutenberg did not have in mind lofty ideas of spirituality or reforming the church at all. He was a goldsmith and an inventor; he was what today some leftist would call a greedy capitalist: he was trying to find a way to print more stuff faster and make more money, which is perfectly, biblically sound as long as it is done in a legitimate area of business. He used his skills as a goldsmith working with metals to create moveable type; and he put these together with a screw-press to do the printing and with the advances that others had made in production of paper and oil-based ink, and he revolutionized human communication. He did this not from within the walls of the church, but from the workrooms and offices of business. And the people who took Luther’s pamphlets, and reprinted them hundreds of thousands of times, may have done so less out of a concern for piety than for profit, but in doing so they “ran the race,” and I suspect a good number of those among them today sit among that cloud of witnesses.
And we should have wisdom in how we conduct the material side of the Lord’s kingdom. We should not fear to gain business savvy. Tyndale encountered great opposition with his English translation of the New Testament, especially in England where it really counted because they spoke English. The account of his first edition runs thusly:
A curious tale is related of how he contrived to turn the devices of his foes to advantage. The Archbishop of Canterbury [Whalem at the time] was buying up his translations for burning and commissioned a certain Packington to scour the continent for more. The man went straight to Tyndale himself and informed him that he had discovered a merchant who would clean out his stock.
“Who is this merchant?” said Tyndale.
“The bishop of London,” said Packington.
“Oh, that is because he will burn them,” said Tyndale.
“Yea, marry,” quoth Packington.
“I am the gladder,” said Tyndale, “for these two benefits will come of it: I shall get money from him for these books and bring myself out of debt, and the whole world shall cry out on the burning of God’s Word, and the overplus of the money shall make me more studious to correct the said New Testament, and so newly to imprint the same once again; and I trust the second will much better like you that ever did the first.”
And the account concludes: “And so forward went the bargain: the bishop had the books, Packington had the thanks, and Tyndale had the money.”
And the work of translation itself did not go without an ironic legacy: After Tyndale was betrayed and executed in the Netherlands, the King of England ordered the Bible to be translated into English for the churches. He assigned this task to Myles Coverdale who was not proficient in Greek and Hebrew, nor did he have time to meet the strict deadline the king put on him. As a result, Coverdale essentially copied most of Tyndale’s translation. In the heritage of the English Bible that followed Tyndale’s laid the foundation of Coverdale’s, Rogers’ “Matthews” Bible, the Great Bible, the Geneva Bible, the Bishop’s Bible, and the King James. The Chicago Divinity professor E. J. Goodspeed writing in 1925 said, “None of these is more than a revision of Tyndale,” for which Tyndale contributed “more than all others combined. He has shaped the religious vocabulary of the English-speaking world.”
One of the least talked-about aspects of the spread of the Reformation is the role played by the orders of monks within the Roman church. The bonds built between brothers within these order were often in reality stronger than allegiances to pope or prince or others. This is because they were real human relationships, shared commitments, shared sacrifices and emotions and lives. These things transcend other relationships, and that’s why God has structured society from the bottom-up, placing the family as the nuclear unit of dominion, then the church, the community and state. Relationships built through the family and local business should serve as the glue of all else.
Luther himself belonged to the order of Augustinians, or Austin Friars as they were called in England. When the controversy around Luther broke out in Germany, the people who gave him the readiest hearing in England—even at the risk of angering the king—were the Austin Friars. And guess what, some of the great names of the Reformation either belonged to the Austin Friars at Cambridge, or had associations with them: Thomas Bilney, Hugh Latimer the Oxford Matyr, Robert Barnes, William Tyndale and Myles Coverdale whom we just mentioned, and Thomas Cranmer (later Archbishop of Canterbury and author of the English Book of Common Prayer). Many of these men went to school together, ministered together, and met regularly at a tavern called the The White Horse Inn, and over beer talked and discussed, maybe even debated. They had fellowship, they had community, and they developed deep personal bonds that across the gospel and the work of God’s Kingdom flowed naturally and effectively.
Perhaps nowhere in modern history has the theme of community Solidarity (of members uniting as one group and gaining strength thereby) appeared more prominently to the Church than in Poland under Communistic rule in 1980. A strongly Roman Catholic country by tradition, Poland was suffering food and supply shortages in the waning decade of the atheistic, communistic dictatorship. In 1978, during this time of state atheism and suppression of religion, the Roman Catholic Church elected Karol Wojtyla, Bishop of Krakow, as the first ever Polish Pope. Renamed John Paul II, the new Pope quickly traveled to speak in Poland in 1979 and was cheered by millions. In defiance of the official atheism and oppressive conditions, he preached for freedom of religion, human rights, and an end to violence. He inspired the nation—as well as much of Eastern Europe and the rest of the world—to believe that something bigger than communism was on their side. They only needed the bravery to stand together in faith.
Within a year, after the communistic government vaulted meat prices during an already acute shortage, self-organized strikes broke out all over Poland. The price hikes came on July 1. Meanwhile, the government was plundering supplies to send to Moscow for the 1980 Olympics which were scheduled to begin on July 19. In an ironic twist, a rail worker in the city of Lublin was poking around some freight cars that sat waiting for shipment to Moscow. Spying the cars full of paint cans, the worker curiously popped one open. To his surprise he found it packed with choice meats. More cans revealed more scarce goods. The news spread. The workers immediately made the connection. Hoards of food were being diverted to make the failing Soviet Union appear prosperous as nations and media flooded in from around the world for the Olympics.
People were furious. Strikes spread like wildfire. The rail workers welded the train’s wheels to the rails and distributed the meat and food to the people. A month later, support was so strong throughout the people that a non-governmental trade-union named “Solidarity” was created and forced the government to begin to back down.
The communist State immediately reacted, however, enforcing martial law and outlawing the Solidarity union. But the attempt to destroy the union failed, only driving the united movement underground. In 1983, another visit from the Pope provided a stage for massive regathering and rallying of Solidarity with hopes and expressions of eventual victory. His message to the Poles remained constant from 1979 until the communist State ultimately fell: “Fear not.” Pope John Paul II’s efforts at toppling communism reached far beyond his 1979 visit to Poland. He had lived through dictatorship himself, worked with underground churches throughout the Eastern Bloc in direct defiance of Communist rule. His leadership among the Poles is now widely accepted as one key factor leading to the end of Soviet rule.
The lesson of Solidarity is that when individuals unite as one body around a legitimate God-honoring purpose, they gain a strength that can overcome the greatest of enemies. Had the Poles remained as disassociated individuals, they would likely never have had the strength to oppose that enemy. To believe they would have had, as individuals, the strength to end the reign of communism would be a delusion of grandeur. To claim so would, in fact, commit the logical fallacy of Division—wrongly attributing the strength of the group to the individuals. Despite whatever individual skill they had, they need the strengths that community provides in order to advance the cause.
As part of the work Reformation, we must join in real fellowship with each other, support each other, and then look for ways to bring others into that community of Reformation-minded believers; because the truth is, outside of the church, there is no genuine community. We need to strengthen that community amongst ourselves, and then offer others a way in that is more appealing to freedom and prosperity than any of the inflated promises corrupt governments or central banks can offer. In doing so, we will strengthen our shared commitments to Christ, to the faith, and to overcoming the adversities that lie before us in the way.
So, in short, we need pervasive individual effort in business and entrepreneurship, as well as networking efforts to unite the strengths and aims of Christianity as a whole. If we lack focused and faithful individual efforts, the community will be like a herd of thoughtless cattle, weak before the forces of political propaganda, easily herded into the corrals of tyranny. But if we have only individual efforts and no focused community, we will be more like a herd of cats: everyone self-willed, independent, disorganized, and not able to be organized; each distracted chasing their own rat, after their own prize, hissing at the next when they get too close. We must have dedication to both goals, individual output and concentration on community. From that combination a church will thrive, and God will direct His arrows against the enemies before us.
God has certainly put some enemies in front of us. We can all make lists. But the point is to be not overwhelmed by the enemies, or the battles, or the chaos, or calculating the odds of how hard it would be for a single little average person like you or me, to send out our single little insignificant arrow to be engulfed in the fray, and “poof” that’s the end of our contribution. The unlikelihood that I can do any good at all is a pretty good reason not even to try. But thank goodness, God directs the arrows. We are not called to beat the odds—God beats the odds—we are simply called to faithfulness in the face of the odds. And that’s not something we are allowed or able to hide from.
 Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform, 1250–1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1980), 199.
 Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform, 1250–1550, 199.
 See Roland H. Bainton, The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century (Boston, MA: The Beacon Press, 1952), 195–6.
 Edgar J. Goodspeed, The Making of the English New Testament (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1925), 13.
 Owen Chadwick, The Reformation (London: Penguin Books, 1972), 113–4.
 Imanuel Geiss, Zukunft als Geschichte: Historisch-politische Analysen und Prognosen zum Untergang des Sowjetkommunismus, 1980-1991 (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1998), 101.
 Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, “Miracle of Solidarity Ended Communism: Polish Patriots Changed History 25 Years Ago,” Human Events, September 26, 2005; available at http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1492257/posts, accessed December 1, 2008.
 Andrew Nagorski, “After Pope John Paul II: Look to Home,” The New Republic, April 18, 2005; available at http://info-poland.buffalo.edu/classroom/JPII/nag.html, accessed December 1, 2008.
 Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, “Miracle of Solidarity Ended Communism: Polish Patriots Changed History 25 Years Ago.”
 Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, “Miracle of Solidarity Ended Communism: Polish Patriots Changed History 25 Years Ago.”