I gave the following address at our school’s fundraising dinner last Saturday night.
“Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself as he who takes it off.” This is either a proverb for soldiers or smack talk between them. It’s probably both and that’s probably why I like it so much. It’s wisdom, it’s snark, both of which a man can use on the battlefield. We could also use more sages and smart-alecks in the sphere of education, so tonight I want to tell the story surrounding this salty sound bite and then see if there is any application for us.
In 1 Kings 20, the King of Syria, Ben-hadad–also known as “the son of Hadad” (since Ben means “son” in Hebrew), or we might call him, “Jr.”–gathered his troops together and formed a coalition with thirty-two other provincial kings. They all marched south to take over some new territory, and Ben-Hadad and this motley military clobbered Samaria. Feeling pretty good about himself, Hadad sent messengers into the city to inform the King of Israel, Ahab, that he was next in line. Hadad told Ahab the sticker price of peace up front: “your silver and your gold are mine; your best wives and children are also mine.” That’s quite a toll.
We should remember that Ahab was not a righteous king. According to chapter 16 Ahab did more evil than any previous king of Israel (verse 30). His wife’s name was Jezebel, that one and only Jezebel who cut off the prophets of the LORD, hunted Elijah after the fire showdown, and had Naboth murdered for his vineyard. Ahab himself abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals, including setting up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal in Samaria (verse 32). “Ahab did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (verse 33). Ahab was, however, king over God’s people and that’s important later.
For now Ahab agreed to Hadad’s terms. “As you say, my lord, O King, I am yours, and all that I have.” He offered zero resistance to Jr.’s list of demands. But, as usual with spoiled tyrants, giving in didn’t appease him, and Hadad served notice that he was going to come the next day, look around, and “lay hands on whatever pleases you and take it away.” Hadad was just rubbing Ahab’s face in a puddle of mean.
That was too much for Ahab. He called an emergency session of Israel’s congress and all the officials agreed that Ahab should not give in. Ahab sent word, “All that you first demanded of your servant I will do, but this thing I cannot do.” He’s still trying to mostly capitulate, but Hadad smelled blood in the weakness.
So with his most bloviating bravado Hadad sent the message back, “The gods do so to me and more also if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people who follow me.” He meant that he would pulverize Israel like such fine flour that there wouldn’t be enough for each of his soldiers to have their own personal scoop. It’s smack-talk oath style, with 33 armies worth of muscle to back it up.
I’m not sure what got into Ahab at this point. Knowing what Hadad did in Samaria and the resources at his disposal, Ahab picked up his spine and said, “Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself as one who takes it off.” A Roman might have said, “Ante victoriam ne canas triumphum,” “Before victory don’t sing triumph.” An actor in an 80’s Naval aviator movie might have said, “Your mouth shouldn’t write checks that your body can’t cash.” Or, as country singer Kenny Rogers might have put it, “You never count your money while sitting at the table.”
Ahab’s confidence was about to thicken from there. A prophet told Ahab that the LORD promised to give the great multitude into his hands. Uncertain about how that could be, Ahab asked by whom? The prophet said not by soldiers but by the servants of the governors. Ahab asked who was going to fire first? The prophet said, “You.” They found 232 servants and backed them up with all the remaining men in Israel, only seven thousand.
Jr. Hadad was out having a pre-victory party with the other kings and they were drinking themselves drunk in the middle of the day. Even though Hadad escaped, the servants of Israel struck down the Syrians and Israel was delivered (for the time) just as the Lord promised. Hadad had indeed counted his chickens before they surrendered.
Does a war story like this have anything to do with a school story? On a feast night like tonight, should we be talking about a fight? And if the account does apply, at least by analogy, which side are we on? What are the unit objectives for us?
Since the Garden of Eden the seed of the dragon (or “serpent” if you prefer) and the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15), whom Paul identified as Jesus (Galatians 4:4), have been in conflict. Everyone on earth wears army boots for one side or the other. Neutrality does not exist on the Internet, in courtrooms, and certainly not in class rooms. There are more than two fighting styles but there are only two fighting sides. We’re with Jesus or we’re against Him.
If we’re with Jesus then we’re against an enemy that, from the world’s perspective, doesn’t just outnumber our resources, he makes us look like baby kittens harnessed to a bobsled right after a bath. We don’t appear to be able to pull much weight and our bite is not much of a threat.
We don’t have the facilities, the subsidies, the salaries, or the rules on our side. It may be lopsided but it’s still a fight that needs fighting. What God will be recognized by the school board or on the white board? What God/god gets credit for math, history, science, line diagramming and poetry? The nameless god of the state? The great god of the mirror, man? Or the Lord Jesus Christ?
Wisdom about war absolutely has relevant wisdom for a Christian school. Issues such as supplies, costs, personnel, tactics, aims, all overlap. So can we learn from the interaction between Hadad and Ahab?
When I first thought of this proverb as applied to our almost three year-old school, I read our part in the story wrong. It may seem as if we’re the ones who are putting our armor on, the ones who need to gird our lips with non-boasting duct tape. After all, what can we do? What have we done?
But the more I read the story the more I changed my mind. We have less reason to be humbled like Hadad and more reason to be feisty like Ahab.
Like Ahab, Christians have been willing to make too many compromises when it comes to giving our kids over to a godless system. Thankfully more believers are realizing that the State has overstepped it’s proper shoe size. Barak Ben-Obama cannot bully us into giving him whatever he wants. Even Ahab wouldn’t have sent his kids to a school accredited by Ben-hadad’s education commission.
Like Ahab we initially cower when the world crows about their success. They are turning the tassels of their standardized test scores and drinking themselves drunk. They mock, threaten, and parade over Christian homeschool and private schools. But they’re the ones who don’t know what they’re doing, which is part of the reason for endlessly-new and improved teaching models, which is part of the reason they need more money. They won’t get the best laugh, let alone the last one.
Like Ahab we do not deserve deliverance. The Lord gave grace to His people and it’s only grace that does us any good, too. In the fight of education we are not perfect but we are on the side of the Lord. The Lord blesses His people even in spite of themselves at times so that we may know that the Lord is Lord.
We are also like Ahab in that the Lord often uses servants to do His fighting. The weak of the world defeat the strong, the foolish confound the wise. In fact, we are more like the unskilled servants than trained soldiers anyway.
Unlike Ahab, however, we look back at the biggest battle. Jesus said, “It is finished.” When we stand with the Lord, we stand on the winning side. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to Me.” He has taken off His armor, having defeated sin and death and risen to the fight hand of the Father. We are His messengers, and though we don’t know everything, we know that the victory is His. “Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself as he who takes it off.” I’d like to imagine that one of Ahab’s God-fearing messengers had a sparkle in his eye when he told that to Hadad. So should we.
When our students sing and we eat meat and drink wine it’s in joy because the great victory is won. Tonight the Marysville Grange is our temporary Mead Hall where we feast because Jesus lives and Grendel and his mom are dead. Grendel’s modern day cousins keep attacking, and we wisely, and feistily, call them amateurs.
We also believe that He supplies His warrior-servants with equipment and training. We’re here celebrating what the Lord has been doing at Evangel Classical School, and we believe that more of His people want to see this feisty worldview enculturated to the next generation.