July 22, 2007

Just a nail . . .

Yesterday when I was praying, the thought came (again) that this seems such a waste of time. I know God answers prayers, but often doubt that He answers my prayers. This morning, He takes a rather roundabout way to show me that He needs me in this war against spiritual evil and my prayers are important.

In Exodus 30, God told Moses to take a census. At the same time, every person needed to give a ransom for himself “that there may be no plague among them” when they were numbered or counted. I think this was because evaluating their numbers could lead to pride, and they had to remember that by themselves, they were nothing. Besides, in that passage God evaluated each person the same. My devotional book says this represents our redemption price according to what God has done for us, and has nothing to do with number or evaluate ourselves.

There was another kind of redemption given later, after God gave His people their promised land. Old Testament Law decreed that the land was to remain perpetually in the family of the first to own it. “The land must not be sold permanently. . . . throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land” (Lev. 25:23–24).

These laws did permit the sale of the ‘use of the land’ (much like the license on modern software — we are licensed to use it, not own it). The value of that land was determined by the projected value of crops between the time of sale and the Year of Jubilee. This Year of Jubilee came every fiftieth year. During that year, people didn’t work the land but enjoyed a year of rest, and in that year everyone was to take possession again of his family heritage—his own land. In other words, what God gave to each family came back to them every fifty years.

However, a person might need funds and sell the use of his land. Later, if he prospered or found a rich relative who was willing to help him, he could reclaim his property by redetermining its projected value to the Year of Jubilee and paying that sum.

The significance of these laws is that if a person made bad decisions or squandered his wealth, there was still provision for capital for the next generation. That person’s property could be reclaimed in the Year of Jubilee. In other words, every fiftieth year, wealth was ‘redistributed’ and the poor were given opportunity for a fresh start.

In Leviticus 27:25, God tells His people how to evaluate their property. “And all your valuations shall be according to the shekel of the sanctuary: twenty gerahs to the shekel.”

At first that verse stumped me. What is it about? My devotion guide points out that this was leading up to another census. Right after Leviticus 27, God again asks His people to take a count. This time it is not everyone. Instead, they they were to number only those that were ready to go to war against their enemies. How was that determined? It was partly their age, but the closing part of Leviticus shows also how God assesses value. This time, it is not according to what He has done (giving them their land), but according to what they have dedicated back to Him. If verse 3 is compared with verse 3 of the first chapter of Numbers, that value has a great deal to do with readiness for war.

This is where prayer comes in. The significance of Old Testament battle for Christians is its clear parallels to spiritual warfare. Our enemy once held firm to our old lives. God, by one redemption price, the life of His Son, redeemed us and gave us new life.

Now that we are in that new life, to take full possession of this ‘new land’ we need to go to war as well. But our enemy is not flesh and blood; we fight the liar and deceiver of our souls, the one who wants to keep God’s people from living holy, consecrated lives. Our dedication to God is measured by how willing we are to engage in this spiritual battle.

I recall a quote by Benjamin Franklin: “For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for the want of a shoe the horse was lost; and for the want of a horse the rider was lost, being overtaken and slain by the enemy, all for the want of care about a horseshoe nail.”

It doesn’t take much to derail me from prayer. It doesn’t take much to distract me while I am praying. It doesn’t take much to make me think that in the big picture my ‘sword swinging’ has little or no value. But this verse, and digging into what this seemingly obsolete law had to do with anything, shows me that my value in the King’s army depends a great deal on my dedication to fight, not only in prayer for others, but against my own nagging little doubts.

Really, it should not take much hang on to that nail. By caring, by dedicating myself to prayer, I may gain a shoe, and then a horse, and then a rider, and then win a battle, and finally the war.

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