Victories through Tools

Victories through Tools May 14, 2019

Have you noticed that victories in the Old Testament are often won not with weapons but with tools or other unlikely implements?

Andrew Wilson draws attention to this fun fact in his essay Bringing a Tent Peg to a Sword Fight in Christianity Today.  In the first battle at Armageddon, the mighty general of the Canaanite army, Sisera, is done in by Jael, a woman with a “workmen’s mallet” and a tent peg (Judges 4:17-22; 5:26).  Shamgar slew 600 Philistines with a cattle prod (Judges 3:31).  Gideon and his 300 men defeated 135,000 Midianites by means of trumpets and jars (Judges 7:19-23; 8:10).  The false king Abimelech is slain when a woman drops a millstone on him (Judges 9:53).

In other examples, the Israelites bring down the walls of Jericho by means of musical instruments (Joshua 6).  Samson slays 1000 Philistines with the “fresh jawbone” of a donkey, not a tool, but an object from the life of a herdsman (Judges 15:15).  Young David has the opportunity to use sword and armor against Goliath, but he chooses instead to use his shepherd’s sling (1 Samuel 17).

There was a good reason why the Israelites didn’t have weapons while they were under the domination of the Philistines:

Now there was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, “Lest the Hebrews make themselves swords or spears.”  But every one of the Israelites went down to the Philistines to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, or his sickle, and the charge was two-thirds of a shekel for the plowshares and for the mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening the axes and for setting the goads.  So on the day of the battle there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people with Saul and Jonathan, but Saul and Jonathan his son had them.  (1 Samuel 13:19-22)

We might see parallels with the Second Amendment.  The Philistines would not allow the Israelites to have blacksmiths who could forge metal weapons.  This allowed the Philistine metalworkers to have a lucrative trade in sharpening the Israelites’ farm instruments, which they evidently used in their uprising.  The new Israelite king Saul and his son did have actual weapons.  As would King David and his “mighty men of valor,” who eventually defeated the Philistines once and for all and turned the kingdom of Israel into a military power.

But as Israel became a conventional kingdom they began to trust in their weapons, military prowess, and foreign alliances rather than the Lord.  Thus prophetic words like these from Isaiah:

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help
    and rely on horses,
who trust in chariots because they are many
    and in horsemen because they are very strong,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel
    or consult the Lord!  (Isaiah 31:1)

Wilson sees the victories by means of tools rather than weapons as teaching dependence upon God as opposed to relying on one’s own strength.

I see traces of vocation.  God acts, and He does so through human beings.  That He accomplishes such great actions of deliverance by means of the ordinary artifacts of ordinary life underscores their importance.  The care for His people shown in miraculous ways in the Bible continues today in His providential care for us.  He delivers us from hunger by means of farmers and their tools; He delivers us from sickness by means of doctors and nurses with their surgical implements and medical technology; He delivers us from evildoers by means of police officers, our military–both of whom use actual weapons as tools of their trade–and the legal system; He delivers us from spiritual bondage by means of pastors in their pulpits and studies.

Wilson ends his essay by showing how this theme plays out, startlingly, in the greatest victory of all, citing connections that I had never thought about before but that now I can’t get out of my mind:  Jesus the carpenter defeating sin, death, and the devil with the tools of His trade–wood and nails.


Image by kai kalhh from Pixabay, Pixabay license

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