By Dr. Roger Erdvig, WCS Headmaster
I Samuel 13 records one of King Saul’s early tests in warfare, and it is a fascinating story.
Soon after Saul became king, he found himself facing the Philistine army. While Saul inexplicably sent most of his army home, the Philistines had 30,000 chariots, 6,000 horsemen, and innumerable soldiers.
With these ghastly odds, most of the remaining Israelite warriors fled into caves, holes, rocks, tombs, and wells. Those who did not flee stood trembling— a feeble force of just 600 men.
But there is an unsettling element of this lopsided contest: the Jewish warriors had no swords.
What’s even more disturbing is how this sword-less-ness happened. The warriors didn’t absentmindedly leave them home. It was the result of Philistine sabotage… “for the Philistines said, ‘lest the Hebrews make themselves swords or spears’” (I Samuel 13:19). The Israelites didn’t have swords because their enemy didn’t want them to have swords.
The Philistines knew that Israel was a threat to their prominence. So, they decided on a brilliant sabotage campaign. They would ensure that Israel had no blacksmiths. Notice they didn’t start with a full frontal attack; they chose a quiet, long-term strategy to weaken Israel’s capacity to wage war.
Not having any local Jewish blacksmiths was a huge problem for the Jews. The Jews had to go to Philistine blacksmiths to have their farm implements sharpened. And to add to the irony (no pun intended), the Philistines charged exorbitant prices for their work.
We’re not told why the Jews didn’t take their swords to the Philistines to get them sharpened. But it’s not hard to imagine how that would have played out. “Hi Mr. Philistine blacksmith. I have a plowshare that needs to be honed. Oh, and can you sharpen this sword for me while you’re at it?” Yeah, right.
So, while the Philistines controlled the entire smithing trade and made out like bandits, Jewish swords became dull and were tossed aside as useless. So on the day of battle, they had no weapons. No wonder they were making for the caves and tombs.
But how did this happen?
This was not mere oversight or poor planning, though it was both of those. Primarily, it was the result of the enemy’s strategy to disarm the people of God.
The enemy enacted a long-term and quiet plan. The enemy was wide awake while Israel slept. And worse yet, support for the enemy’s war machine (the blacksmith trade) was being funded in part by Israel’s shekels.
Swords were an essential element of Israel’s capacity to obey God and to secure the Promised Land. Wisdom would have required King Saul to proactively ensure that every man had a sword, that he knew how to use it, and that he had the means to have his weapon sharpened.
I wonder how the Philistines accomplished this masterful strategy.
Did they control the “blacksmith training schools”?
Did they cut off the supply chain for blacksmith tools and iron?
Did they start out offering rock-bottom blacksmithing prices, making it impossible for anyone in Israel to make any money doing it, thus forcing them out of business?
However they did it, the result was that Israel was unable to do what God had called them to do that day between Geba and Michmash.
I see some parallels to the difficult situations Christians face today. We’re certainly in a grand battle for the Truth, and it seems we’re not very well prepared for the conflict. In the midst of chaotic and confusing times, we’re reaching for our “swords” only to discover that very few actually have them well-honed and ready for use.
Anytime we ask with incredulity, “How did we get here?” or, “What in the world happened to the culture?” or, “Where are our swords?”, it may be that we’ve allowed the enemy to quietly undermine our battle-readiness.
Here’s one scenario that sure looks like the result of the enemy’s sabotage.
Current research from George Barna of the Cultural Research Center suggests that just 4% of millennial parents who self-identify as Christians have a well-developed Biblical worldview.
Let that sink in.
In the battle for Truth, if parents don’t have a well-developed Biblical worldview, we can’t possibly expect to effectively equip our children to overcome the lies that saturate our culture.
Certainly, the enemy has been working overtime to enfeeble a generation of Christian parents, just as the Philistines did with the Jewish blacksmiths. Distractions, anxiety, frenetic activity, worldly goals—all these are very likely tools of the enemy to keep parents from developing a solid Biblical worldview.
Soldiers without swords. Parents without a Biblical worldview. Neither can legitimately hope for any meaningful victory on the battlefield.
The story from I Samuel actually ends well—the king’s son had one of only two swords that were available. He and his armor-bearer (with God’s empowerment) were able to push back the Philistine advance. Just a few soldiers—well equipped and strategically placed— can make an enormous difference.
Likewise, a few parents with a Biblical worldview and a commitment to equip their kids with a Biblical worldview can seriously shift the tide in the battle for Truth.
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